Electric customers paying for meters they don't have; Target 11 investigates

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PITTSBURGH —

You may not know it, but you're being charged on your electric bill for something you may not have -- at least not yet.

When viewers posted on WPXI’s Facebook page about why they were being billed for a smart meter when they didn't have one, we wondered the same thing.  So Target 11's Gordon Loesch started asking questions about what the fee is all about.

Families said it’s just another cost added to already expensive bills this cold winter.

“I went fine-tooth, combing through the bill and noticed and extra $10 charge, and I was like. ‘What is this?’” said Deanna Bergles, a West Penn Power customer.

Bergles and everyone else in Pennsylvania is being charged for a smart meter.

The new meters will wirelessly communicate with electric companies in a way that should help reduce costs and more quickly restore lost service.

West Penn Power hopes to begin installing the meters this summer and finish in 2019.

“My head wanted to pop off because I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to be paying for the next five years for something I might not potentially have,” said Bergles.

“There’s work being done now believe it or not.  We’re in the planning stages of getting those meters across the footprints,” said PUC Chairman Rob Powelson.

Powelson said the charges are based on each utility’s needs and can be broken down as a flat fee or per kilowatt.

A spokesperson for West Penn Power told Loesch the company estimates the program to cost them more than a billion dollars, saying, "That's a huge amount that we don't want to hit customers with at one time.  We tried to spread the cost over a long time so it doesn't have a huge impact on customers."

In 2011, Allegheny Energy (which is now West Penn Power) launched an Energy Savers Program to approximately 24,000 residential customers who volunteered to participate.  Through this program, they received smart meters.  This program is no longer active, but the customers still have smart meters.

Duquesne Light released this statement:

“Before customers receive an advanced smart meter, there are many components that have to be implemented as part of our advanced metering infrastructure, and that is made up of back office systems, telecommunications infrastructure, and data collection systems for the advanced meter to work.  Therefore, customers are being charged for those components currently being put into place, which includes the eventual installation of the meter.  But, remember, without the technology previously mentioned, the meter wouldn’t be able to provide the eventual advanced functionality.  Our smart meter plan, which was approved by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, will have us starting to exchange some meters this year, finalizing the exchange of all the meters by 2020.”

The PUC said smart meters must be installed everywhere by 2023.

The smart meters are already in the Philadelphia area and should be fully deployed to those 1.4 million households by the end of the year.