By: Amanda Hoover |
For 24 years, John Regina was a model JCP&L customer. He says he paid his bill on time each month — all 288 of them.
But something always seemed off, and he says he repeatedly complained to JCP&L. The bill just seemed too steep for a man living alone in a townhouse in Bedminster.
Regina turned off his central air when it was hot, sweating it out to save money, and conserving power in other ways.
He says JCP&L ignored his concerns. After all, no one likes paying their electric bill.
A utility worker finally came out last month when Regina’s house suddenly went dark, and that investigator was able to quickly illuminate the issue.
Regina, it seems, had actually been paying about four times the rate he should have, thanks to a meter mix-up that had him footing the bill for a family of four next door.
“I don’t know anything about the meters. I just wasn’t [able] to tell them what the problem was,” Regina, 66, told NJ Advance Media this week. “They dismissed my calls, and they never investigated.”
JCP&L has acknolwedged the mistake and offered Regina a bill adjustment credit of nearly $6,300.
But that credit only covers the last six years, and JCP&L says that’s all Regina can expect to get. Thanks to state regulations, the mistakes beyond that time span aren’t JCP&L’s problem.
Regina argues that JCP&L owes him around $25,000 for the 24 years of billing errors, as they overcharged him by about $1,000 a year for the last six.
Ron Morano, a spokesman for JCP&L, said he could not discuss an individual’s account information, but referenced the state regulations on the six-year window.
“The company is aware of the customer’s issue and has followed all the appropriate New Jersey Board of Public Utilities meter rebilling regulations,” he said in a statement. “In cases such as this as per the company tariff, adjustments can only be made for a period of no more than six years. Customers can also file a formal complaint the BPU.”
When pressed on why JCP&L wouldn’t just make Regina whole, returning the money he was overcharged over the past two-and-a-half decades, the utility company would only refer back to its statement.
Regina said he believes he’s owed more compensation, especially considering that he called to complain multiple times between 1994 and 2011.
“I told you something was wrong,” Regina said, referencing his communications with JCP&L. “You didn’t check into it then. That six year thing doesn’t mean anything to me.”
The meter mix-up was only discovered after his neighbors moved out. When the new owner did not set up electric service right away, JCP&L came out to turn off power to the neighboring property. Instead, Regina’s house went dark.
A JCP&L worker sent to investigate the odd power outage at Regina’s house connected the dots, and another investigator ruled on the issue, he said. All they had to do was leave a light on outside at one of the houses, and cut power to the box at the other.
“What they did to verify didn’t even take 10 minutes. Shut the power off, put it back on,” he said.
It’s not clear who exactly made the mistake when installing the meters, and it could have been the builders of the townhouses.
According to New Jersey Administrative Code, utility companies must keep records for six years, and “may choose to keep records longer than six years in order to facilitate compliance with the rules regarding adjustment of charges for meter error.”
According to the Board of Public Utilities, those who believe their meters are not reading properly “have the right to have your meter tested, free of charge, once a year by your utility.”
In this case, though, both meters were working perfectly fine.
Regina’s credits for the six years of incorrect bills came to $6,286.26. At the rate he actually uses electricity, he could go years without needing to pay a JCP&L bill again.
He hopes that instead of an account credit, he can get his money back, and has sent a request to JCP&L to see if they can make that work. According to the BPU, he’s entitled to either a credit or a reimbursement check of his choosing. He’s worried, though, accepting a check for $6,000 will signal he’s accepted that as the end of his dispute.
And at 66 years old, he ponders how he could have invested the extra money he spent on someone else’s utility bill for all those years.
“I’m still working,” Regina, who serves as the human relations director at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark. “I’m planning on retiring next year. This money should’ve been in my retirement fund. I may not live long enough to exhaust that credit.”
Regina also hopes that his story will serve as a cautionary tale to others living in townhouses or apartments. He would like to see a law requiring companies to check on meters when new residents take over townhouses, and has written to some of his representatives as well as begun the process of petitioning the BPU for a formal hearing.
“If it happened to me, it must be happening to somebody else,” he said.