Friday, February 09, 2001

Double trouble: CG&E bills customers twice

By Mike Boyer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Sunday Special: The High Cost of Keeping Warm
        Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co. ended up with egg on its face this week because about 1,000 credit card and debit card payments were deducted twice from customer accounts.

        CG&E said it is notifying customers. It has already credited customer accounts that were were mistakenly billed twice.

        “It was our fault,” said Dave Woodburn, CG&E spokesman. He said the problem cropped up on bills paid by credit or debit card through the company's telephone call center and its Central Parkway office.

        Here's how the bills were submitted twice: All of CG&E's charges are sent to the bank processor by telephone line at the end of the day. When the accounts are sent, a confirming signal is sent back to CG&E's processing center. For some reason the signal didn't come back the first time and the bills were resubmitted.

        The problem became apparent when debit card account customers found their accounts overdrawn because of the double bills.

        About 990 customer accounts were affected. All the affected customers were expected to be notified by today or Saturday.

    Send us your questions about energy bills and conservation, and we'll ask the experts. Use the convenient e-mail form at Or:
    Mail to Betty Barnett, Enquirer reader representative, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202.
    Call (513) 768-8299 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
    Please include your name and phone number.
        Mr. Woodburn said this is the first time he's aware of that the utility has had this type of problem.

        Question: How and when will CG&E adjust my budget billing charges to account for this winter's higher prices? My bill in January did not go up, but the total amount owed did, of course, I'm afraid of getting a horrendous bill at some point.

Answer: CG&E offers two basic budget billing plans — a 12-month plan, which averages energy costs and bills you in 11 monthly installments, and a quarterly plan that adjusts payments every three months.

        In the 12-month plan, the customers are billed or credited for any difference between their actual energy use and the total amount paid. Each monthly bill includes actual metered charges to avoid any surprises in the 12th month.

        Additionally, in the plan's sixth month, CG&E reviews energy usage. If there's a variation of 30 percent more or less than your monthly installment, CG&E will include a message on the bill suggesting a change in the monthly payment.

        The three-month plan averages the costs for each quarter and bills in three equal installments.

        CG&E says customers can pay more on their budget billing plans at any time by notifying the company. The utility advises customers do this if they want to avoid a big payment at the end of the billing period.

        Q: What about the landlord who pays utilities for his tenants? What is he to do about higher bills? A: There aren't a lot of options for landlords whose apartments have central heating plants and include heat in their monthly rent, says Charles Tassell, director of government affairs for the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Apartment Association.

        “I talked to one landlord who budgeted $25,000 for heating his apartments and the December bill came in at $50,000,” he said.

        The problem is that most older four- to 12-family apartment buildings in Cincinnati have central heating systems designed to use coal or steam boilers and there is no way to meter each apartment.

        He said landlords with low-income tenants can obtain assistance from the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency for weatherization projects that cut fuel bills. For landlords with tenants above the poverty level, CG&E also offers an energy audit service.

        Mr. Tassell said he has approached Ohio officials about designating a portion of Project Thaw heating assistance funds for apartment buildings but hasn't received a response. He said he has also proposed the city of Cincinnati set up a low-interest loan program to help landlords update the efficiency of their heating plants.


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