CLEVELAND — Frustrations from FirstEnergy customers grew to supercharged levels over the weekend.
“I don't use a lot of electricity,” Billy Bernard said. “I’m just one person.”
Bernard lives in a Lakewood apartment and said he typically spends just under $30 on his electric bill each month but was shocked to see a total of more than $200 on this month’s statement.
“They said that it was because of the pandemic that they have not been able to send anybody out to do actual readings,” Bernard said. “So every month it's been an estimate.”
Bernard is not alone.
“I was definitely shocked,” Josie Lazirko said.
Lazirko rents an apartment in Fairview Park and said on average, she and her roommate split a $60 electric bill.
However, this month’s bill was nearly $300.
“I just wish I knew where it was coming from. I really do not want to pay the few hundred dollars if it wasn't my fault that it's that high,” Lazirko said. “I did see that they're doing estimates and I looked at my bill and it did say estimated. I don't think it's really fair to either of us to have to shell out the money that we didn't know that we were going to have to pay.”
According to FirstEnergy spokesperson Mark Durbin, monthly estimates, as opposed to actual meter readings, are one plausible explanation for the uptick in this billing cycle.
“Maybe one of our meter readers, because of the severe weather, wasn't able to make a read that month,” Durbin said.
FirstEnergy’s website states estimates are based on the energy usage from that month the previous year, but Durbin said working from home combined with a particularly cold winter may mean people used more energy over the past year, which resulted in the difference between the estimated usage and the actual usage people are now seeing reflected on this month’s bill.
“The furnaces, maybe the space heaters people were using, they were just using them more often,” Durbin said. “That's going to be reflected in the actual energy that they're using.”
Megan Esposito of Cleveland said she’s been paying pricey estimates each month and is wondering if there’s an even larger bill in her future.
“I try to be optimistic, but I'm just wondering am I going to get a couple hundred dollar bill in the mail like tomorrow?” Esposito said.
Durbin said FirstEnergy customer service representatives will talk through costly bills with customers and help establish a payment plan, but Esposito said the energy company should have been transparent about estimated readings in the first place.
“They definitely need to be providing actual meter readings and prior to that, people need to be made aware that this is what's happening,” Esposito said.
If you need utility assistance, you can call United Way's 2-1-1 helpline to learn about their available resources.