L. Islanders get usual power bills despite Sand blackout; utility says no mistake

CNN Wire Service

NEW YORK — The Long Island Power Authority is assuring outraged customers that their latest electric bills with normal monthly charges are no mistake, despite some being in the dark for days or weeks after Superstorm Sandy.

Customers are being billed are “based on the estimated reading of (their) energy use from the same month the year before,” LIPA spokesperson Elizabeth Flagler said Monday.

“(The) next actual meter reading will reflect the amount of electricity (customers) have used since (their) previous actual meter reading, and it will automatically adjust … charges,” she told CNN.

LIPA customers are questioning why their electricity bills post-Sandy reflect a full month’s use of electricity, and don’t account for the days that customers were without power.

LIPA customer Jonathan Saporta complained about receiving three full electricity bills for his various properties on Long Island.

“Even if they said they would rectify it — go out and do real readings — don’t go taking more money out of our pocket when we already lost so much,” Saporta told CNN on Monday.

Saporta received bills that have him fuming. The first was a bill for the Long Beach home he had moved out of on October 1, after alerting LIPA he was moving and before Sandy hit, in the amount of $649. That, he said, is double what he usually pays for the home, which sat in the dark most of the month.

Saporta also received a $281 bill for his new Great Neck home, despite being 14 days in the dark for the billing month.

And he received a $1,700 bill for his storm-ravaged Long Beach restaurant, Jake’s Wayback Burger, which Saporta said was totaled in Sandy, and hasn’t been reopened since before the storm.

“At this point, with a major disaster, with so many people losing so much of their livelihood, they can’t go around to do estimated billing and hold all that money,” he said.

Flagler said there are two ways for customers to help themselves.

First, she advised customers to do the digital meter readings themselves and call it in to customer service to get a new bill that will be regenerated in two weeks. She did mention, however, that conducting the reading was difficult and that there is an educational video on LIPA’s website to address how to do it.

Second, customers can pay what they think is appropriate and then wait for the exact reading to pay the difference, she said.

Saporta said Monday he was having trouble getting in contact with LIPA, period.

“I can’t even get them to acknowledge my existence on Earth rather than address what is what,” he said.

“Until I get some sort of clarification on what is owed and what is going to be done, I am going to continue ignoring them,” Saporta said.

LIPA has been widely criticized for its communication with customers in weeks after Sandy. In the midst of complaints LIPA’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Hervey resigned earlier this month and Bruce Germano, the vice president of customer service, announced Monday that he will leave the utility at the end of the year. X. Cristofer Damianos, who served on the LIPA board, also stepped down, LIPA spokeswoman Elizabeth Flagler said.

Flagler said the estimated billing this month was a direct response to Sandy, and not the way LIPA typical bills.

“All LIPA and national grid employees were reassigned to support elsewhere in efforts to restore power. That’s why the bills have been estimated,” she said.

“It’s not the first time bills have been estimated. They were estimated last year after (Hurricane) Irene,” Flagler added.

“This is a pretty much what I believe all utilities do in the event of natural disasters and storms.”

Flagler says LIPA is holding bills for those affected by flood, like those in the Rockaways area of Queens.

And she said for this month all late payments will be waived.

Meanwhile, as the cleanup continues from Sandy, officials in New York City put residential owners and landlords on notice that they must make “necessary repairs to provide electricity, heat and hot water to their tenants.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Mathew M. Wambua said building owners who need assistance can sign up for the NYC Rapid Repairs program.

“As temperatures continue to drop, endangering the health and safety of the tenants in storm damaged buildings, these essential services must be restored as quickly as possible,” a statement from Bloomberg said Monday.

“Owners who fail to promptly correct hazardous conditions themselves or do not sign up with NYC Rapid Repairs to restore essential services to their buildings will be subject to the commencement of enforcement proceedings.”