GRU sent some customers estimated bills for September based on last year’s usage, regardless if a customer’s power was knocked out the week of the hurricane.
Phil Denton didn’t expect a $350 Gainesville Regional Utilities electric bill this month for a rental property that has been vacant for five months.
But he did — and he’s not alone.
GRU officials said Friday afternoon that customers may see higher-than-normal electric bills for September. Officials said the utility estimated usage for some 20,000 meters for the week of Sept. 11 through Sept. 15. Workers were unable to physically get to some meters due to Hurricane Irma.
GRU will use estimates from September 2016, even if another tenant occupied the home last year and regardless if a customer’s power was knocked out the week of the hurricane.
“That’s a rude awakening after a hurricane,” said Denton.
Herb Firsching, GRU’s customer operations director, said customers will be credited on their October bill if the next meter reading shows a decrease in usage. Those who see higher-than-normal September bills should see lower-than-normal bills in October, he said.
“No one is going to have to pay for consumption they didn’t use,” he said. “Estimates aren’t a desirable thing for us. It’s not something we normally do.”
Firsching said GRU estimates are relatively close to the average electric consumption numbers.
Denton, 67, has another property — both along Northwest 43rd Terrace — that is being renovated. He said the average bill teeters around $80 a month.
This month it was $250.
He said he called GRU and payment was temporarily suspended until a future reading, but that he would still be responsible for the difference in the two bills.
“In my mind, I thought GRU has been doing good with post-Hurricane Irma stuff, but now I will vote against GRU in every future situation,” he said.
GRU spokesman David Warm, in an email, said the city-owned utility chose not to use August bills as a benchmark and that last year’s bills are a “more accurate representation of the seasonal influence on a monthly bill.”
Firsching said GRU has not yet waived its late fees for customers who received estimated bills. He said the utility continuously works with customers struggling to pay bills by deadline and often gives extensions.
GRU encourages affected customers to call customers service at 352-334-3434 to discuss bills and payment options. Customers can also visit the utility’s website to review payment assistance options at http://bit.ly/2xYiwCa and billing options at http://bit.ly/2wbwoog.
Contact reporter Andrew Caplan at email@example.com or on Twitter @AACaplan.