PECO: More Suck, Less Lawfulness!

I didn’t mention it when it happened – in part because I was too pissed to write anything more coherent than a string of obscenities – but PECO turned off our power again a little while ago.  This time the overdue amount was just under $200, and again there was no contact made to Stephanie or I about turning it off.  Of course, like last time if you asked them about that, they’d say of course they contacted us, and provide dates and times when they talked to someone on the phone.  Mysteriously though, the recordings of those conversations would not be available, so there would be no proof that they actually talked to someone – just a line on a computer screen with a date and time.  Well, I did a little poking around last night, and found some interesting information.. while it’s hard to prove a negative (that they didn’t actually contact us this time, or the last time) there’s one thing that is easy to prove: This last time, they turned off the power on a Friday (October 30th 2009, I paid on my credit card so the date is easily verifiable too).  Now according to Pa. Code § 56.82, “Except in emergencies—which include unauthorized use of utility service—service shall not be terminated, for nonpayment of charges or for any other reason, during the following periods: (1)  On Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.”  So now I contacted the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission to find out what can be done to make sure PECO stops breaking the law.

I’m generally not the litigious type; I’m certainly not looking to try to make a million dollars off of PECO, though I wouldn’t complain if someone issued such a summary judgment in our favor.  But I’m a law-abiding citizen, and if I were to do something against the law and be called out on it I would face the consequences.  For example, if I were speeding and got pulled over I wouldn’t argue with the officer; If I did the crime, then I have no one but myself to blame for the punishment.  Conversely, if something happens in the relationship between us and PECO – such as a bill not getting paid on time – then I expect they will want to collect on that bill.  And at no time would I be of the mindset that they’re not due the money, unless there was a true billing mistake (which has also happened, and we should have disputed more loudly – namely, they decided to simply remove us from a budget plan and require the full balance paid immediately, which we didn’t have.. kinda defeating the whole purpose of a budget plan in the first place).  However, if I see someone speeding down the road in front of my house, it’s against the law for me to go throw a hammer through their windshield, and on the same hand I expect that if PECO is going to take action against us for non-payment that they follow the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and take appropriate steps to collect on that debt.  After reading the law as written, both times they turned off our power could have been avoided and the bill would have been paid without a termination.  The bit quoted above is the first part where they went wrong – namely by turning off our power on a Friday morning.  I knew this was the case because I remembered telling the person who did it, “but it’s Friday, how in the hell am I going to get this turned back on so the pumped breastmilk that we have in the freezer doesn’t spoil?” and he informed me that they work on Saturdays too, before pushing me out of the way to get back in his car.  Where else did they go wrong?  Here’s three sections worth:

§ 56.93. Personal contact.

Except when authorized by §  56.71, §  56.72 or §  56.98 (relating to interruption of service; discontinuation of service; and exception for
terminations based on occurrences harmful to person or property), a utility may not interrupt, discontinue or terminate service without
personally contacting the ratepayer or a responsible adult occupant at least 3 days prior to the interruption, discontinuance or termination,
in addition to providing other notice as specified by the properly filed tariff of the utility or as required by this chapter or other Commission
directive. For purposes of this section, ‘‘personal contact’’ means:

(1)  Contacting the ratepayer or responsible adult occupant in person or by telephone.

(2)  Contacting another person whom the ratepayer has designated to receive a copy of a notice of termination, other than a member or employe of the Commission.

(3)  If the ratepayer has not made the designation noted in paragraph (2), contacting a community interest group or other entity, including a local police department, which previously shall have agreed to receive a copy of the notice of termination and to attempt to contact the ratepayer.

(4)  If the ratepayer has not made the designation noted in paragraph (2) and if there is no community interest group or other entity which previously has agreed to receive a copy of the notice of termination, contacting the Commission in writing.

§ 56.94. Procedures immediately prior to termination.

Immediately preceding the termination of service, a utility employe, who may be the utility employe designated to perform the termination, shall attempt to make personal contact with a responsible person at the residence of the ratepayer and shall attempt to make personal contact with a responsible person at the affected dwelling.

(1)  Termination prohibited in certain cases. If evidence is presented which indicates that payment has been made, a serious illness or medical condition exists, or a dispute or complaint is properly pending or if the employe is authorized to receive payment and payment in full is tendered in any reasonable manner, then termination shall not occur. However, if the disputing party does not pay all undisputed portions of the bill, termination may occur.

(2)  Methods of payment. Payment in any reasonable manner includes payment by personal check unless the ratepayer within the past year has tendered a check which has been returned for insufficient funds or for which payment has been stopped.

§ 56.95. Deferred termination when no prior contact.

If a prior contact has not been made with a responsible adult either at the residence of the ratepayer, as required by §  56.94 (relating to procedures immediately prior to termination) or at the affected dwelling, the employe may not terminate service but shall conspicuously post a termination notice at the residence of the ratepayer and the affected dwelling, advising that service will be disconnected not less than 48 hours from the time and date of posting.

Now here’s a nice bonus, though I can’t of course confirm it.  Stephanie called to pay our bill yesterday, and in the course of talking to the woman found out that we were scheduled for another termination which was now canceled since the bill was paid.  Stephanie asked if we had been, or would have been contacted about this, and the woman confirmed that there had thus far been no contact warning of an impending termination.  As Stephanie was venting to this woman about PECO’s practices, she confided in Stephanie that she too had her power cut off – even being an employee of the company – for nonpayment, while she was on maternity leave from the office.  Her past-due amount?  One dollar and change.  Now, that isn’t us, and we have no proof of it, but if that’s the case then PECO violated yet another portion of PA law:

§ 56.83. Unauthorized termination of service.

(10) Nonpayment of delinquent accounts: which accrued over two billing periods or more, which remain unpaid in whole or in part for 6 months or less, and which amount to a total delinquency of less than $25.

Of course, try to get them to admit to any wrongdoing.  The most I expect from any of this is a “Whoops, sorry.”  Realistically I expect I might get a “that’s nice, now what do you think you’re going to do about it?”  Though the best possible outcome might be to start an investigation into their “revenue recovery” methods and some serious sanctions on the company for breaking the law numerous times.  If they broke the law at least three times against us, how many times have they done it to other people, people who don’t know their rights or to read the law, people who have no idea they’re in an abusive relationship with a power company with – dare I say it – too much power?

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