Seattle’s public utility is getting sued for relying on smart meter estimates rather than an actual meter measurements.
Seattle City Public Light is facing a potential class action lawsuit for systematically over-billing customers during a smart meter rollout.
The Seattle Times shares the story of Ian Wathen, a South Lake Union Resident. Wathen says he received a bill totaling nearly $2,000 from Seattle City Public Light, the northwestern metropolis’s largest utility. According to the company, it had under-billed everyone in Wathen’s entire building for the past two and a half years. And now, Public Light was sending out receipts to recover its costs.
And the bill, says Wathen, wasn’t a misprint. SCPL told him that it reserved the right to back-bill customers up to six years if they’d previously been under-billed.
“I understand mistakes happen, but this is unbelievable,” Wathen told the Times. “Imagine if I had received the same bill for a six-year period: It would have been nearly $4,500!”
To counter some of the utility’s most egregious claims, Seattle law firm Terrell Marshall has proposed and a filed a class action request in King County Superior Court. If the request is granted, the class could encompass every customer impacted by Public Light’s purportedly problematic billing practices. Terrell Marshall claims “thousands” have been affected.
The firm, reports Crosscut.com, is seeking “actual and consequential damages in an amount to be determined at trial,” as well as “other and further relief as may be just and equitable.”
Crosscut says many of the problems can be traced back to Seattle’s “rocky 2016 rollout of a new billing system.” Over-budget and built around “smart readers,” Public Light directed employees to check energy-usage readings at each site the meters were installed.
If employees were unable to check and “certify” a smart reader’s measurement, a usage estimate would be automatically generated. With Seattle City Public Light short on workers, a lot of consumers wound up with uncertified invoices.
In many cases, consumers who received abnormally high bills weren’t told their reading—revised or not—had been based upon a usage estimate.
“City Light’s acts and practices set forth […] are unfair or deceptive,” Terrell Marshall’s filing claims. “Such practices include using estimated meter readings to charge customers when actual meter readings are available, using undisclosed methods to arrive at estimates that are disadvantageous to its customers, failing to clearly designate that bills are the products of estimated usage and failing to provide a method to promptly correct erroneous estimates, relying on estimates for extended periods of time, and attributing any amounts it considers to be unbilled to higher rates than those it would have billed its customers had it actually read their meters and billed accordingly.”
To determine who might be eligible for a claim if the class action is certified, Terrell Marshall says the firm will ask Public Light to produce all its bills based on estimates. With that paperwork in hand, T.M. attorney Ari Brown said they “should be able to determine which estimates were improper and who was overcharged as a result based on their databases.”