- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Customers who lost power during Hurricane Isabel won’t necessarily see lower electricity bills this month.

It probably will take another month to “square” bills for most customers, spokesmen for the region’s largest utility companies said.

About 120,000 of Potomac Electric Power Co.’s customers will receive “estimated” bills for September usage, spokesman Robert Dobkin said.

Pepco serves 720,000 customers in the District and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Heavy winds caused by Isabel knocked out power to 570,000 of them.

Estimates on bills are based on “historic usage patterns and current weather trends” for each customer’s account, said Denise Gavilan, a Pepco spokeswoman.

The utility was relying on estimated billing because most of its meter readers were unable to get to customers’ homes to measure actual power consumption after Isabel, Mr. Dobkin said. He did not know how many customers typically would receive estimated bills.

Meter readers were taken off their regular routes to help Pepco operators answer telephone calls and to assist emergency crews with repairs, he said.

They are only now able to get out to read meters, Mr. Dobkin said. This means reductions in usage as a result of power outages will not be reflected until the next billing cycle in November, he said.

“No one will be charged for power they did not receive,” he said. Spokesmen for Dominion Virginia Power and Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. said the same.

Public officials and local residents have criticized Pepco, saying its response to the outages was slow compared with Dominion and BGE. Some Washington-area residents were left without power for more than a week after the storm hit Sept. 18.

All three utilities said customers will receive letters with their next bills thanking them for their patience and apologizing for inconveniences caused by power outages.

Dominion Virginia Power also will rely more on estimated billing this month, said spokesman David Botkins, but its estimates will be lowered because of the outages.

Customers should wait until the next billing cycle, after meters are read manually, to determine whether usage levels appear correct, Mr. Botkins said.

“All bills will be squared up, if you will,” he said.

BGE, which has some customers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, said it also will rely on estimated billing because many of its meter readers have been unable to visit customers’ homes.

However, its estimates will be based on usage levels in the wake of the storm, spokesman Robert L. Gould said. Customers who believe their bills are too high may request manual readings. The bills will be adjusted if necessary.

“This was an extraordinary event and we are certainly willing to work with our customers,” Mr. Gould said.

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