Errant BGE house call costs $80

CONSUMING INTERESTS

Your Money

April 29, 2008|By DAN THANH DANG

THE Q:

When the power in your house goes out and then comes back on 10 times in one day, your first reaction is to probably call the electric company.

Jennifer Strasbaugh, an art gallery director, did exactly that April 4 when she kept losing power at her Edgemere home for the second day in a row. It wreaked havoc by knocking out her Internet connection, resetting her computer and turning her oven on and off. There was no unusual weather that day or construction going on that Strasbaugh could see.

"I don't know if this is new company policy or not, but when I called Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., a customer service rep told me that if I reported a power outage and they cannot find the problem, I will be billed $80," said Strasbaugh, outraged. "She told me that if they sent a worker out to my house and they can't find the problem, they'll charge me $80. She then asked me if I wanted to cancel the work order. I didn't want to get charged so I canceled it.

"I think that customers should be made aware that it is not 'free' to have a power outage investigated anymore," Strasbaugh said. "I find this infuriating; given the rates we are paying."

The A:

While most everyone has a right to be infuriated by the rates (except for the brilliant politicians who decided we needed to deregulate this industry way back when), we may not want to jump the gun and pound BGE into a pulp here.

In our relationship with the electric company, BGE is responsible for maintaining gas and electric service to the meter. Beyond the meter, customers are responsible for gas or electric-related equipment such as wiring, piping, appliances, breaker boxes, service lines and cables supplying our homes.

When we call to say our lights or power are out, BGE spokesman Kelly Shanefelter said, customers are asked a series of questions by a live customer service rep or automated voice to determine whether an electrical issue is your problem or something wacky going on with BGE's equipment.

"For example, the customer may be asked if they checked their fuse box or if any neighbors are also without service," Shanefelter said. "BGE will quote the $80 fee when the information provided by the customer suggests that the problem is with the customer's equipment."

Either Strasbaugh misunderstood or the customer rep who spoke with Strasbaugh did a lousy job of explaining this, but you should be aware that the $80 fee will only be charged if BGE responds and the electrical issues are found to be on the customer's side of the meter, which is typically everything inside your home.

If the problem is on BGE's side of the meter, which is typically everything outside the house, BGE will fix it at no charge.

It's a policy common to other utilities and one that has been in place for more than 20 years at BGE, Shanefelter said.

"This policy also helps avoid the increased costs borne by all customers associated with unnecessary service calls by our field crews and helps get the right assistance - most likely a private electrician - to the customer as soon as possible," Shanefelter added.

"Maybe the rep I was talking to was new or she was having a bad day because I wish she had explained that to me because I thought I'd be charged a fee every time I called about power outages," said Strasbaugh, who also said she discovered the possible cause of her problems that day by hopping in the car to drive around the neighborhood. She saw a BGE truck working on power lines not too far from her home.

Strasbaugh encountered no more power problems after that.

dan.thanh.dang@baltsun.com

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