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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