Sandy-weary Long Islanders can wait to pay power bills, utility says

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - 9:00am

The Long Island Power Authority said Tuesday its customers -- many of them in areas hard-hit by Superstorm Sandy -- can wait for the next meter-reading cycle to pay their power bills.

Customers also can make a partial payment reflecting what they think is appropriate, and then wait for the exact reading to pay the difference, LIPA spokeswoman Elizabeth Flagler said.

The announcement came after outraged customers questioned why they were receiving electricity bills post-Sandy that reflected a full month's use of electricity, even though many were without power for days or weeks.

The utility had said Monday that it was sending out bills based on customers' estimated usage of the same month last year, because it had reassigned its meter readers to help with power restoration efforts after Sandy.

"(The) next actual meter reading will reflect the amount of electricity (customers) have used since (their) previous actual meter reading, and it will automatically adjust ... charges," Flagler told CNN on Monday.

But LIPA customers such as Jonathan Saporta complained about receiving typical bills for electricity use during a month that was anything but typical.

"At this point, with a major disaster, with so many people losing so much of their livelihood, they can't go around to do estimated billing and hold all that money," Saporta said.

Flagler said that, in addition to delaying payment without late penalty or making a partial payment, customers can do the digital meter readings themselves and call it in to customer service to get a new bill that will be regenerated in two weeks. She did mention, however, that conducting the reading was difficult and that there is an educational video on LIPA's website to address how to do it.

Saporta said Monday he was having trouble getting in contact with LIPA, period.

"I can't even get them to acknowledge my existence on Earth rather than address what is what," he said.

"Until I get some sort of clarification on what is owed and what is going to be done, I am going to continue ignoring them," Saporta said.

LIPA has been widely criticized for its communication with customers in weeks after Sandy. In the midst of complaints LIPA's Chief Operating Officer Michael Hervey resigned earlier this month and Bruce Germano, the vice president of customer service, announced Monday that he will leave the utility at the end of the year. X. Cristofer Damianos, who served on the LIPA board, also stepped down, LIPA spokeswoman Flagler said.

Flagler said the estimated billing this month was a direct response to Sandy, and not the way LIPA typical bills.

"All LIPA and national grid employees were reassigned to support elsewhere in efforts to restore power. That's why the bills have been estimated," she said.

"It's not the first time bills have been estimated. They were estimated last year after (Hurricane) Irene," Flagler added.

"This is a pretty much what I believe all utilities do in the event of natural disasters and storms."

CNN's Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley and Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.

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