It seemed like the annual rite of passage for many in Palm Springs. As temperatures climb, so do power bills. But what turned out to be a few raised eyebrows and cries of “same here” this summer, is now a movement.
Leading the movement is Nichole McCall, whose original inquiry about a surprising $750 monthly bill from Southern California Edison (SCE) resulted in a broadcast news report with a simple explanation from the utility company, but led to the formation of an online forum showing just how complicated the power picture is in the Coachella Valley.
“It’s such a mess,” McCall said earlier this week. “It’s not just one kind of error; it’s a multitude of different kinds of errors.”
To date, McCall and others who are part of newly formed groups on Facebook and Nextdoor, have crowdsourced more than 250 reports of billing errors and unusual activity in SCE’s service area from Palm Springs to Palm Desert. Among the reports:
- Kilowatt-hour usage that nearly doubled year over year for one Rancho Mirage customer despite running fewer air conditioning units;
- Multiple bills in the same week or no bills at all for months — and no account listed online — for some Palm Springs customers; and
- A Net Energy Metering (NEM) settlement bill of $640 for one Desert Hot Springs customer who generates their own power that is roughly six times what they expected.
Through NEM, customers who generate their power through a solar system pay the difference annually between the energy they contribute to the grid and the energy they consume.
Further complicating matters is that many local customers receive bills through SCE for both the power they use and the delivery of that power. The power is sourced from Desert Community Energy (DCE), a community choice aggregator that offers a higher mix of power from cleaner energy sources. Charges for the power and the delivery of that power appear as two separate items on SCE customers’ bills.
“I am having to manually go through every bill and put the data into Excel to attempt to determine whether I’m being ripped off,” wrote one Palm Springs customer. “SCE bills are a challenge on a good day. SCE NEM bills are nearly cryptic. SCE NEM with DCE — getting out my scientific calculator and a pentagram to summon the demons who created it.”
Jeff Monford, a spokesperson for SCE in the Coachella Valley, said Tuesday he sympathizes with those frustrated by their bills, but that an increase in online uproar is not indicative of any issue. Monford noted that the utility company’s data shows a 99.53 percent accuracy rate among the 5 million bills sent out to California customers in September. While specific data for Palm Springs was not available, Monford said there is no current reason to believe widespread billing or other power problems exist in the city.
Monford said that what may be at the root of many customer complaints is the release of new billing software in the spring and the issues that followed that release.
“A small set of bills were delayed and they were contacted about that,” Monford said of affected customers. “It was not concentrated in the Palm Springs area or any other region. As with any software upgrade, it resulted in a very small percentage of billing errors. But because customers are now more connected to each other than ever, you hear more about this very small percentage.”
Another factor in increased energy bills, he said, is record-breaking heat this year in Palm Springs and surrounding communities.
“We don’t have to look hard to find headlines about the hottest temperatures on record,” he said. All SCE customers have been encouraged to conserve energy, he added, including through the tips offered here.
McCall and others who have joined her efforts accept that higher temperatures are leading to higher bills. However, they are not assuming that there isn’t a more significant issue at play. She said the group has reached out to legal counsel to evaluate a possible class-action lawsuit, while seeking signatures for a petition and a complaint form. They are also encouraging SCE customers to file complaints with the California Public Utilities Commission.
“We have the attention of a consumer class action attorney already,” McCall said. “I have compiled over 200 complaints and counting, so this appears to be an issue that is most likely affecting thousands across the Valley.”