National Grid customers get slammed with spiking electricity bills

Jessica Scarpati

An unidentified number of New Englanders saw their January electric bills spike as their utility company caught up with accounts that were undercharged this winter.

National Grid said Friday it estimated portions of bills for 300,000 customers for usage from Dec. 11 to 17 — undercharging some customers in December — because workers had been diverted to central Massachusetts due to the ice storm there.

The utility then tacked on the difference in the January bills, which caused some bills to spike — including the account statement received by state Rep. David L. Flynn, D-Bridgewater, who contacted The Enterprise.

“Whether this is a legitimate bill or not, National Grid must be more forthcoming with its customer when dealing with estimated readings,” said Flynn.

He questioned why the company didn’t include mailers explaining the situation and said he wants the attorney general to investigate.

Flynn said his Bridgewater office received a $300 electric bill last month, which he said was more than double what he was charged the previous month.

And he’s not the only one picking his jaw off the floor.

“I have been deluged with phone calls,” said Flynn, who also said he was asked about the issue while refueling his car at a Bridgewater gas station recently.

About 300,000 of the utility’s 1.7 million customers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire received estimated electric bills, said National Grid spokesman David Graves. It was not immediately clear how many were undercharged.

Here is what happened, according to the utility:

The winter storm in mid-December slammed central Massachusetts and parts of southern New Hampshire, leaving more than half a million National Grid homes in New England and upstate New York without power. The utility diverted its employees to aid those customers first. After Gov. Deval Patrick asked the National Grid to help a local utility company in central Massachusetts, National Grid sent workers into those communities they do not service. National Grid also had sent line crews to parts of New Hampshire. Due to the diversion of resources that week, meter readers were unavailable and National Grid did bill estimates. Many came in lower than what they should have been. National Grid calculated the difference, and the company tacked that amount onto the January bill.

Technicians have not yet figured out why Flynn’s office got such a high bill, but he said he found their answers dubious. “They need something (with the bill) to give a full explanation,” he said.

National Grid said Flynn’s office received bill estimates in December and January, possibly prompting a higher February bill. The utility would be conducting an energy audit of his office and checking his meter, Graves said.

Flynn has called on Attorney General Martha Coakley to investigate the company’s rate structure. A spokeswoman for the attorney general said Coakley’s office received Flynn’s request and is “looking into the issue.”

The Dean of the House said he hoped his public outcry would be “a wake-up call” for National Grid to better communicate with customers who are in danger of being slammed with an unusually high bill.

“Not that I don’t have the money to pay it, but what about some poor person on welfare? Or a senior on a fixed income?” he asked. “You can’t just put people at risk (who aren’t prepared). It’s not fair to them.”

Jessica Scarpati can be reached at jscarpati@enterprisenews.com.