Broken electric meter leads to big bill for Rockingham County couple

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EDEN, N.C. – A Rockingham County couple that’s been paying extra on their Duke Energy utility bill because of a broken electric meter got quite the shock when they opened their latest bill and found they owed more than $3,000 in a little less than a month.

Samuel Hopkins, in his 70s, said his big energy bills started last year when Duke told him the meter reader wasn’t working right and the $10 bills he had been getting charged for two years were inaccurate.

Since the beginning of 2014, Hopkins had been paying between $140 to $200 per month to try to catch up. Hopkins said he was never late with a payment.

“They told me this is what you'll pay per month and that's what I paid,” said Hopkins.

With this latest bill, though, the energy company expects Hopkins to pay more than $3,200 by June 16 or power will be cut to his home. Hopkins is a diabetic and his wife can’t walk. He said leaving his home is not an option.

“I was hoping to get some kind of settlement on it,” said Hopkins. “Let me pay like I was doing maybe half of it instead of having to do whole doggone thing because half of it was my fault half of it was their fault.”

Duke Energy wouldn’t talk specifically about the Hopkins’ case, because the issue could be going to the North Carolina Public Utilities Commission, but released the following statement about meters that don’t accurately read the power being used by a home.

An electric meter is a piece of equipment that can over time slow down or stop working altogether. And when they do, customers with slow or stopped meters can continue to power their homes without being charged for the power actually used. The North Carolina Utility Commission has rules that allow the back billing under these circumstances. We recognize this is not a popular practice and that it can create hardships for anyone who experiences this situation. Annually, we remind customers through bill inserts to notify us of significant decreases or increases in their bills, especially if there have been no changes in their lives – i.e., new equipment inside their homes, fewer people living at the location – so we can quickly address any potential equipment issues. Additionally, we have recently implemented new capabilities to flag accounts for investigation if a customer’s monthly energy usage falls significantly above or below their historic usage. This will certainly help catch broken equipment faster and avoid large, multi-month billing adjustments.

North Carolina’s Department of Justice said a utility company can give a customer six months of leeway on a past due debt before it expects the full amount.

Hopkins said a due date for the full amount was never discussed.

Hopkins said he knew that the $10 monthly charge was a significant decrease on previous energy bills but thought he was getting a discount because of his wife’s disabilities.