LAKELAND — Lakeland Electric customers have been surprised to discover charges for days they were left without power after Hurricane Irma.
This is an error and will be corrected before billing resumes, Lakeland Electric spokeswoman Cindy Clemmons said. The utility’s billing operation has been suspended as all hands were focused on the mass outage following the storm.
Anyone who has paid a bill with the phantom power usage will be credited or refunded with the following bill, Clemmons said.
The problem arose from a feature built into the smart-meter reporting system. Smart meters, unlike analog meters, report consumption to the utility without needing to be read by a person. When smart meters can’t phone home to tell the utility how much power the utility uses, the billing system is designed to estimate power usage. Then, when the connection is re-established or the meter is read manually later, an adjustment is made on the next bill.
For Irma outages and estimated bills, those days will be struck from customers’ bills before they are finalized, Clemmons said.
“We will definitely not be charging customers for electricity when they weren’t utilizing it,” she said.
Duke Energy reported a similar problem last week and told customers to ignore grossly inflated bills generated when smart meters weren’t reporting usage automatically.
“Don’t even worry about the estimate,” Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Layne told the Tampa Bay Times. “Their actual bills are coming.”
Christopher Guinn can be reached at Christopher.Guinn@theledger.com or 863-802-7592. Follow him on Twitter @CGuinnNews.