SEBRING - For January, Sebring Duke Energy customer Russ Francis noticed his electric bill was for 39 days between readings, and his normal, approximately $140 monthly bill instead was nearly $300. Fortunately, for about 33,000 Duke Energy Highlands County customers on the Lake Wales-Highlands County U.S. 27 area, the higher bills are just a temporary occurrence. Due to what Duke Energy says is a "one-time" event to re-route its meter reading strategy and make the company more efficient, about 60,000 customers got a shorter billing cycle of 23 days, about 16,000 got a cycle of 36 to 39 days and about 17,000 got one for 40 to 45 days. Duke charges one rate for up to 1,000 kilowatts per hour and a higher rate for anything above that.
Duke spokesman Stirling Ivey said Monday meter readers were re-routed to get more of a consensus in routes instead of having some going back and forth and double-tracking their reading paths. According to the Public Service Commission, state regulations allow a utility to add or subtract five billing days and the extra fees that the change generated are small but can add up throughout the system. Ivey said the one-time change to re-route its readers optimizes routes. "Some customers may see a one-time adjustment. The most important message I have is we'll work with all of our customers if they have difficulty paying their bills with the one-time adjustment," he said. Ivey said Duke Energy periodically re-routes its meter readers to decrease mileage, increase response time for customer-requested work and make the reading of meters more efficient. Francis acknowledged he got a letter from Duke alerting him to the coming change in his meter read dates. He said he felt the proper way to handle the change would be to lower the rate to 1,333 kilowatts per hour to allow for the extra 10-day reading delay. Ivey said Duke understands the frustration but reiterated the one-time effect of the altered rates. "This is not a permanent change and the bills should resume to normal amounts next month," he said. For information, see www.duke-energy.com/billingupdate or call (800) 700.8744(800) 700.8744. firstname.lastname@example.org