By Russ Ptacek
BETHESDA, Md. (WUSA)
- The $19,000 power bill a Bethesda man received was the last thing he expected since he'd already complained about getting an erroneous $11,000 charge, and the bills Pepco continued sending would only get worse before they got better.
"I was shocked, I was shocked," said Bethesda hair stylist Ira Ludwick. "It was terrifying."
Pepco spokeswoman Myra Oppel defended the utility's initial investigation that found the power reading to be accurate.
"He called and said the bill was incorrect." Oppel said. "That bill was correct. The bill was correct for the meter it was billing for."
The key would be whether that meter was the correct meter for Ludwick.
"The results of the investigation were an insult," Luckwick said. "I got a one sentence letter stating that upon a review of your account, it has been determined that the meter reading is correct and your bill is now due."
Ludwick said the ordeal continued for months until WUSA9 intervened.
"They wanted permission for you to investigate," Luckwick said about Pepco requiring him to sign a release to discuss the case. "I said, oh please."
Oppel said Pepco never threatened to disconnect Ludwick's bill during the dispute.
Oppel said after WUSA9 called, Pepco determined it had been charging Ludwick for the wrong meter, which she blames on the way his landlord labeled the equipment.
"He will be getting a revised bill that is based on his actual usage," Oppel said. "We expect that it would be considerably lower."
Oppel said the utility initially responded by changing out the meter associated with Ludwick's account and testing it in a Pepco lab where it tested accurate.
That's when Ludwick said he received a letter saying Pepco's investigation was complete and he owed the entire amount.
Before taking over the space this summer, Ludwick had expected a bill around $500 a month for his new 2800 square foot hair salon.
"The initial bill was $7,300 plus $4,200 totaling the $11,585," Ludwick said. "After I had protested about this number, I got another bill, that, as you can see, totaled over $19,000."
Before it was over, Luckwick said Pepco sent a final bill for over $24,000.
When Ludwick got nowhere with Pepco, he contacted a consumer protection agency familiar with WUSA9's ongoing review of the utility. They suggested he contact us.
This time, Pepco's investigation found something.
"When we certified the meter, we found out the meter cabinet was labeled incorrectly," Oppel said. "He did nothing wrong. Pepco did nothing wrong."
Since Ludwick's meter wasn't Ludwick's meter at all - for months, he'd been charged for power his small shop wasn't using.
"I made one phone call to you guys, next thing I know the ball is rolling," Luckwick said. "Three days later, It's done."
Oppel said it is unclear whether WUSA9's intervention led to the resolution.
"The process that we followed and the timeline we followed was normal," Oppel said. "If he had called back again that process would have continued."
Oppel said this type of problem is rare, and the utility does not routinely disconnect equipment for testing, or run tests on meters to ensure they are serving the correct accounts, unless a customer requests it.