Some Albertans struggling with already high power bills are facing another shock: adjusted charges.
Jordan Shewchuk of Strathmore recently received a bill from FortisAlberta for much more than he usually pays.
“The recent bill came in at $701,” he told Global News. “So approximately $500 more than I’m used to paying.”
Shewchuk said he asked for answers and he was surprised by what he was told.
“Fortis said that my previous bills were estimates and the new bill reflected the actual usage I had over the past several readings.”
Rhonda Stuckey, who lives on an acreage near Lethbridge, was also stunned by her latest power bill for more than $5,000, especially since she had recently paid her provider Enmax more than $2,000.
“I was shocked once I opened it up to see the amount that was owing on it,” she told Global News. “The prior month everything was paid in full so there was no prior balance.”
The small business owner had expected a hike but added she didn’t expect anything like this.
“I was expecting an increase definitely due to the carbon tax,” she said. “But not 400 per cent.”
Stuckey said she too believes it was due to estimated charges that turned out to be much more once they were actualized.
“I question why nobody could come out within the last four months to even read my meter,” she added. “And why I got slapped with a bill like this.”
Utility companies in Alberta are required to obtain at least one actual meter reading from general household meters at a minimum of once every six months. The rest of the time, they can do monthly estimates.
Global News reached out to Fortis about Shewchuk’s case.
The company said it could not discuss specific details but officials said:
“Estimates are carried out when there is no communication with the site meter (due to faulty meter for example). Estimation is done using the latest available actual read in order to get as close as possible to what the customer would normally see at their residence or place of business.”
The company added its standard is “twice monthly reads” and in this case, because it was an estimate, Fortis said it would have been done once per month.
Shewchuk is adamant that didn’t happen.
“Absolutely I would have noticed,” he added. “The meters are right on the side of the building, they’re not hard to get to at all. There’s no reason for them to have not done actual readings on a monthly basis.”
Enmax said in Stuckey’s case, its records show: “The customer was billed based on actual, not estimated, reads of the meter by the electricity and gas distributors (Fortis and ATCO).”
Stuckey said she was also told that, but she doesn’t believe it. She also said she asked the company to re-check the readings.
“She said she was very sorry but she wasn’t able to send anyone out to read my meter.”
Enmax said it realizes getting a higher-than-expected bill can be very stressful and it has worked with the customer (Stuckey) to figure out a manageable solution.
Stuckey said it’s not so manageable, adding she is now paying about $850 per month, for the next six months, on top of her regular bill.
“It’s a big financial hit and if they’re going to charge you that, they should have proof and come and read it as far as I’m concerned.”
Shewchuk agreed. Despite Fortis also reaching out to find a solution, the young father paid it off himself, using his emergency funds, something he knows other families may not be able to do.
“Fuel is through the roof, food is through the roof,” he said. “I have three young children. I work two jobs to provide for all of us.”
“And an extra $500 on top of my typical bills, it’s tough to deal with.”
Both are calling for changes so this doesn’t continue to happen to other Albertans and Canadians.
“The government and or these individual companies need to step up and say we need to do more than the minimal,” Shewchuk said. “I don’t know of any other industry where that would be allowed.”
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