Duke Energy refuses to refund overages paid by small business

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Duke Energy refuses to refund thousands of dollars in overages paid by a local family care home that provides assistance for persons with disabilities.

Parkview Family Care Home is a small business that cares for disabled adults, who aren't able to live on their own, and claims the nation's largest utility, Duke Energy, has been overcharging the home for more than a decade.

Before 2010, the power company charged Parkview as a small business. But because the home has five residents, it qualifies residential billing, which is less expensive.

It took manager Tangela Jones years to realize the error and believes Duke Energy should compensate the business for over payments.

"I think because we did pay those rates, I just think that we should be refunded the overage," Jones said.

Duke Energy agreed with Jones that Parkview had been billed incorrectly for years and changed the billing schedule in 2010.

The utility told Jones and her mother Margaretta Hines that it did not owe any reimbursement for overages because Parkview should've caught the mistake years ago.

"Basically they were saying that it's our responsibility to know about the rates, but it's not our responsibility. They provided the service," Hines said.

Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Layne disagreed, saying Duke Energy has no way of knowing if a business has less than ten patients -- and should receive residential billing -- or more than ten patients -- and should be billed as a business.

"The rates are established when the structures are built, when service is applied, and unless we are told differently we do not know to change that rate," Layne said.

Duke Energy inserts rate schedule information into bills on an annual basis. The inserts contain details on what qualifies as a residence and what qualifies as a business, as well as how to change your rate schedule if it's incorrect.

In this case, Duke Energy's position is there was no attempt to confuse the customer, and there was no way for the utility to know what's going on inside a customer's walls.

"We'll be responsible if we did it intentionally, but again, we don't know what's happening inside the customer's home," Layne said. "And then we remind them annually, let us know if there's been any changes. And that goes both ways."

Hines and Jones are skeptical, believing they never received any information that they were being billed incorrectly and feel the power company is taking advantage of a small business.

"We're kind of under their control because if we don't do what they tell us to do, we get our lights cut off. And we cannot run a handicapped facility with no lights," Hines said.

Parkview Family Care Home has retained an attorney and plans to take Duke Energy to court if the two sides cannot reach a financial settlement.