By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
Rory Gawler always saved money with the solar array system he has at his Lebanon home, but since Liberty Utilities switched its customer service system he’s had bills totaling more than $5,000 without any explanation for how much power he supposedly used.
“The amounts are completely not correlated,” Gawler said.
Gawler was charged more than $3,000 last month, with the utility taking that money directly out of his bank account. This week, the company tried to take out another $2,900 before he stopped them. Up until the customer service system switch, he had been racking up bills maxing out at around $250 before the company paid back money for the power his solar panels generated.
“Since they switched over, I don’t know if I’m even getting credit for my solar power at this point,” Gawler said.
Gawler has not been able to access basic information about his account from the customer service system, like exactly how much power he’s supposedly using. He’s only getting these bills which he had had to pay with a credit card that charges close to 30 percent in interest.
“I can’t get answers on how much electricity I’m actually using,” Gawler said.
According to Gawler, Liberty told him it had undercharged him for about six months. Since he signed up for an autopay account, the company told him it has the right to take the full back amount directly out of his bank.
That’s not quite the case, according to Amanda Noonan, with the New Hampshire Department of Energy. If he was genuinely undercharged for six months, Liberty should have presented Gawler with a six-month payment plan to catch up with the balance.
“Customers should be provided options to repay that amount over the same time as they had the billing problem,” Noonan said.
Gawler’s not alone in having problems with Liberty. Since Liberty changed its customer service system in October, which included its billing system, customers all over New Hampshire have been complaining to the New Hampshire Department of Energy. Noonan said the state agency has been monitoring the utility since the change, and plans to have more conversations with the company.
“We have been monitoring this issue on a monthly basis,” Noonan said. “We will take another look to see if something else needs to be addressed with Liberty,” Noonan said.
Liberty is owned by Canadian Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. The company has 87,000 natural gas customers and 43,000 electric customers in the Granite State. The company did not provide answers when contacted this week.
Don Kreis, New Hampshire’s Consumer Advocate, has been hearing from many Liberty customers who have solar group net metering systems. That is a system in which one person hosts the solar array on their property and the power is shared with other properties. The problem is obviously the new customer service system, according to Kreis.
“There has just been a slew of implementation and transition issues,” Kreis said.
Group net metering is an important piece to New Hampshire’s energy future, as it spreads out the investment into a solar power system and allows people without the land to share in the benefits of solar power, Kreis said. Kreis is concerned about what the problems Gawler and others are experiencing says about Liberty.
“The larger issue is the quality of service,” he said.
Noonan said people who are having issues with their utility company can file a complaint with the Department of Energy by calling 1-800-852-3793, or by mail at Consumer Services Division, New Hampshire Department of Energy, 21 South Fruit Street, Suite 10, Concord NH 03301-2429.