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JEFFERSON CITY (WATE) - Over the years, many East Tennessee utility companies have taken great pride in keeping customer electric bills low, but recently complaints have mounted as monthly bills have risen.
A Jefferson City man claims his electric co-op has hidden charges in monthly statements sent to members.
Most utility companies pass along what is called a "customer charge". It's a monthly expense associated with maintaining records, meter reading and billing.
The charge appears on monthly bills even if you use no energy or water during a billing period.
Some companies show this charge on bills mailed to their customers, others do not. One man is asking why the charge isn't reflected on his bill.
Lynn Rutherford keeps close watch of the electricity he uses.
For example, in the winter he keeps the temperature cool and he tries to keep his monthly usage as close to 1,000 kilowatts as possible.
"I'm satisfied in my effort of keeping my energy costs down, but I'm not satisfied with the transparency with the co-op," said Rutherford.
Rutherford is a member of the Appalachian Electric Cooperative (AEC), which has about 45,000 customers.
He said the monthly statement sent to his home lacks critical information about his bill.
"They have a hidden charge, a customer charge of $17.40. It went up from $16 in March 2011, to $17.40," he said.
Rutherford said the charge wasn't on his statement.
"It should be," he said. "How else would we know when it's going to go up?"
Rutherford's statement recently sent to his home shows no reference to a base customer charge.
"Without that charge being there, you don't know how much a kilowatt is," he said. "The co-ops were built and designed for the members. We own the co-op. Their first obligation is full transparency. Right now this billing statement isn't transparent."
Greg Williams is the manager for Appalachian Electric Cooperative and said the issue is new to the co-op and its customers.
He showed us a typical statement, and, again, no customer service charge is reflected.
"We don't mind telling them it's embedded with the rate. We can explain that, but why create a lot of confusion on folks who simply don't need that confusion?" Williams asked.
He said AEC recently changed the look of it monthly statement. For example, he said a graph that compares usage from one month to the next is helpful.
He doesn't believe, however, that a print out of all the charges is needed.
"There is a lot more grief than there is benefit from making that change," he said.
The Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation in Clarksville, for an example, displays the customer service charge on their monthly statements.
Greg Williams said his co-op's board would have decide additional changes to their monthly statement.
Now, if Lynn Rutherford goes online to check his account, the customer charge is shown. But since he has automatic withdrawal from his checking account, he rarely goes online.
Rutherford doesn't understand the co-op's resistance to providing the additional information on statements sent to member homes.
"It's just real simple, transparency," he said. "So that we all know, all 45,000 members know that charge is there."
The Appalachian Electric Cooperative said information about that customer charge is made available to their members on the website as we reported.
While currently there is no intention to alter the billing statements, the co-op's board meetings are open to members where suggestions about changes could be discussed.
If you have a consumer issue, call the 6 On Your Side Hotline at 865-633-5974 or email email@example.com.
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