Lights Out for Disabled Veteran? Retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Says Southern California Edison Threatening to Leave Him in the Dark

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"To me, the idea and expectation that the day is slowly and surely coming when we will be able to honestly say we are our brother's keeper and not his oppressor is very beautiful."  - Thomas Edison

A disabled Gulf War-era veteran who uses a breathing machine to sleep says Southern California Edison is threatening to shut the power off in his home if he doesn't pay a whopper of a bill the utility sent him.

Kevin Blanchard, a 58-year-old Fullerton resident who retired from the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant colonel, said he regularly paid his monthly power bill of around $300 a month, then Edison dropped a $5,994.31 bill in his mailbox in late September.

"I was really rather shocked, to say the least," Blanchard said.

Blanchard, who is a customer on Edison's Medical Baseline Program, which allows those who use electricity-powered medical equipment to be provided additional killowatt hours at the baseline rate, immediately contacted the utility to ask why his 3,200 square foot home had been hit with the bill.

According to Blanchard, when he contacted Edison, a representative told him that the charges were from the previous two years of billing, and that starting in January 2010, the utility stopped reading his meter and instead started charging him on estimated billing amounts.

"The whole practice of estimated billing, especially for a person who is on medical baseline billing, is really, really screwed up," Blanchard said.

Blanchard said when he asked why he never received notice that Edison had stopped reading his meter at 2341 Terraza Pl., the representative speculated that it was probably because he had a dog on his property.

Paul Klein, a spokesman for Edison said at least one letter had been sent to Blanchard, informing him of access issues because of his dog.

Blanchard owns a German shepherd. The service dog helps Blanchard, who suffers with osteoarthritis in his right hip and chronic left ankle pain, which the Veterans Administration found is related to his military service during the Gulf War.

Blanchard said he keeps his German shepherd in a pen, with access to the house when he is not home, and the pen doesn't prevent Edison representatives from reading his meter.

And, according to Blanchard, a meter reader had given him a gate lock and key several years ago. The meter reader had been using his own key to access the yard for at least four years, Blanchard said.

"It didn't make sense to me because I saw the meter reader going in and out of my yard all the time," Blanchard said.

Blanchard, who works in Long Beach as a director of contracting for the Department of Veterans Affairs - Veterans Integrated Service Network, said he requested another reading of his meter, which Edison conducted on Oct. 7. As a result of that reading, the bill was cut to $4,401.10.

When he asked why the bill was reduced so much, Blanchard said Edison couldn't provide a clear explanation.

Blanchard filed a complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission, which is investigating the matter, although its initial findings agreed with Edison.

A field representative from Edison met with Blanchard on Nov. 29 and determined that Blanchard's meter is reading accurately. Blanchard said the representative informed him that Edison had been reading the meter monthly, and that since Jan. 26, 2007, just two months were billed on estimated usage amounts.

"The story keeps changing every time I ask a question," Blanchard said.

According to a Dec. 14 letter to Blanchard from a review manager with Edison's Consumer Affairs Department, the utility "cannot be responsible for identifying the individual item(s) at a residence that could account for the consumption a customer uses on a monthly basis...SCE has verified the usage recorded on your meter is accurate as are the charges you have been billed."

The review manager also offered Blanchard information on how to conserve energy.

Blanchard said he has taken steps over the past few years to cut energy consumption, including installing fluorescent lights, and changing the filtration pumps on his pool.

When it comes to the bill he is fighting, Blanchard said he would "have to be running a factory" in his house to rack up the charges.

Blanchard told the CPUC that Edison is "aggressively" trying to cut his service, and is sending disconnect notices to his house.

After he provided additional evidence to the commission, including usage and billing history, the commission notified Blanchard on Feb. 1 that it was opening his case again.

The commission also informed Blanchard that "we cannot order the company not to disconnect your service if you do not deposit a check or money order for the disputed amount with the CPUC to impound the funds."

Blanchard said he sent the commission a check to hold until the billing dispute is resolved.

He said he has tried to work with Edison, but the company hasn't been accommodating.

"The thing that really bothered me was the lack of compassion," Blanchard said. "They made it clear: You either pay up buddy, or we're going to shut you off."

Klein said that is not the case, and that Edison has not only offered to install an electronic meter that would eliminate the need for estimated billing, but has extended Blanchard's account.

"As a courtesy, we have put an extension on his account because of his complaint to the commission," Klein said.
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11 comments
Blanchardkw
Blanchardkw

Hello everyone,

I just found this article today.  I did not know this had been published.  I am the person who filed this complaint with the PUCO.  Interesting comments.  

Anyway, just for clarification, I do not get any special "Low Income" rates or anything like that. I am just a :Medical Baseline" Customer.  That is because I was injured during the military service; and sustained Cervical, (and other injuries); and now I have to use a Breathing Machine at when sleeping.  I am rated as 100%.

My complaint was because SCE could not provide me any rationale explanation about the "Estimated" Billings they were claiming.  For instance, their own records indicated my monthly KWH usage was around 2000 KWH per month.  But just for the month of September alone, they billed me for 6, 723 KWH for that month alone, and a total due of $1, 723.10!  FOR JUST ONE MONTHS SERVICE!!!

And that was just one example.  So of course I disputed it.  And when they failed to provide any explanation; I had no choice but to file a request for the PUCO to investigate.  In fact; I have already paid the PUCO the disputed amount of nearly $5000 while this issue is being reviewed by the PUCO.  I honestly think this is something that needs to be investigated.  

I am probably not the only person being subjected to this practice.  So I am sure the PUCO would not waist their time unless they believed there was a problem here.  

Hope this clarifies the issue.

Kevin Blanchard

Raymond McCauley
Raymond McCauley

This guy is getting a deduction he is not entitled to 909jeff said below this guy is most likely pulling in a six figure income he owns a rather large home with what I would guess has electric heating and cooling and another thing these programs that SCE has like CARE which gives the customer there electricity at a reduced cost are intended for the poor and low income families and individuals which I can tell you this person is not the CPUC which runs this programs should also investigate this person income and verify that he is entitled to the special rates that he has been receiving.  

909Jeff
909Jeff

Edison is a monopoly... and are not incentivized to take care of their customers. 

I have some questions on the nature of this persons status also.  A Lt Colonel who is retired and disabled should be pulling in retirement and disability pay which could be up to 100% of his base pay.  A Lt Colonel in the early to Mid 90's was pulling in 70-75k.  and he currently has a job as a director for the VA.  I'm guessing my man might be pulling down a total number closer to the six figures or higher. He also gets free health care from the VA, one less deduction from his pay.  

Edison is jacked up to be sure but I'm suspecting that this isn't the sob story that it sounds.

Blanchardkw
Blanchardkw

Oh,

Also, Heating is Gas and No Air Conditioning here.

Blanchardkw
Blanchardkw

Hi Mr. McCauley,

Just wanted to clarify,  I do not get a CARE reduced "Low Income" type rate.  The Medical Baseline Program provides some additional "Baseline" KWH because of the additional Medical Equipment, but the real benefit of the program is receiving "Priority" Notification and re-connection in case of a Electric Outage.  But I can certainly understand the confusion in these programs.

Kevin Blanchard

Blanchardkw
Blanchardkw

This issue really has nothing to do with income.  It is related to the practice of "Estimated" Billing.  No one know if or when SCE initiates this practice; and if they do; how the bills are calculated.  This is totally an unknown.  There should be some formal process whereas Customers are notified; and informed as to how much their monthly "Estimated" rate will be.  To my knowledge; there is nothing currently in place to do mandate that practice.  I think this is especially important for those in the Medical Baseline Program or those on any of the Low Income Programs as well.  In fact, why not for all customers?  I can tell you, I never received any such notification.

You are partially correct that a retired Lt. Colonel will receive retirement pay and perhaps some disability compensation; but that really has nothing to do with the issue.   

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

Good catch.  When I read the sq. footage and about the pool, I became suspicious too. 

909Jeff
909Jeff

Mr, Blanchard. 

Thank you for the response... Its always better when we get the perspective of the actual person.  Yours is not a unique problem as I opened and closed by saying I think Edison is messed up... Actually to be quite frank I think they are flat out crooks.. Ask yourself why would edison needs to advertise?  We cant get our power from any where else? Wasted money that could go back to the customers. Anyways I digress. I had a family member with COPD and Emphysema and on Soc Sec and we had a few run ins with Edison.  

Your particular financial situation is no one's business but when I read the story being a former military guy myself I felt the author perhaps wasn't being completely truthful. 

I have no doubt that your medical condition has increased the cost you have incurred and as a veteran I salute your service.  Good Luck to you with your fight against Edison.

Blanchardkw
Blanchardkw

I did switch all the lights over to low voltage a few years ago.  The pool pump a few years ago as well.  I don't even swim.  I will try to get the usage on the pool filter pump...but I was told it is minimal.

909Jeff
909Jeff

Kevin, 

I thank you again for having the integrity to stand up and respond with tact and professionalism... But us military guys tend to be like that.... 

Again, Good luck in you battle with Edison.. Sir!

Jeff (Former) Cpl USMC 

Blanchardkw
Blanchardkw

Hi Jeff,

I should refer you formally since you have done so to me....I am Kevin, please.  Actually, I think this issue needs to be addressed by the PUCO and the Governor needs to take some action.  I was very fortunate in having the money to pay them :immediately.  

They wanted to cut me off---less than 2 weeks after they said they readjusted my bill.  I am still trying to figure out why (if they could not read my meter because of the dog) all of a sudden; in Sept. they could???  I have greeted the Meter Reader in my back yard several times.  I still can't figure it out.  There is a serious "Disconnect" at SCE.  

After they sent me this "Jaw-Dropping" bill: I inquired about paying the disputed amount over time.  They said no.  So I paid it all.  But what about the person who could not come up with the cash?  In the dark, and that Medical Equipment is NOT working.

Last Saturday; Feb. 11th, I was awaken by the neighbor's dog barking.  The SCE Field Rep was in my Back Yard...equipment in hand.  He was wanting to switch out my meter. So again, if they cannot access my yard to read the meter; how is he in the back yard???

On Jan, 28th; I received a bill saying in addition to the nearly $5K I paid a couple weeks ago; I owed an additional $499.00 due today for the January billing.  I was preparing to pay; and yesterday received another bill dated Feb. 14th......Now they say I have "Overpaid" by over $500.  

Anyway, thanks for your very kind comments.  I am not trying to "pull a fast one" on anyone, but these practices need to be address and corrected; regardless of income or anything else.

Kevin

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