The state Public Service Commission is reaching out to consumers who think they have received questionable bills from West Virginia American Water Co. and informing them of steps to take to resolve the matter.
In the aftermath of the Freedom Industries-related do-not-use water order and flushing procedures, many consumers have spoken out about potential billing discrepancies and irregularities.
In a news release Tuesday, the commission said customers with questionable bills should first get in touch with the water company about the problem by calling 800-685-8660.
Water company spokeswoman Laura Jordan said the company's customer service representatives would investigate each customer's concerns.
"As we always do, our company looks into and addresses each customer inquiry individually," Jordan said.
Jordan said the company began applying flushing credits to customer bills on Feb. 7. However, she said flushing might not have been the only factor that could have inflated customers' usage in January.
"Other than water used for flushing, we know many customers have left water faucets dripping to prevent their pipes from freezing during this winter's unusually cold temperatures," she said.
"Even a slow drip can use a lot of water over time."
Jordan also said the weather might have prevented water company meter readers from checking some residential and commercial meters. When that happens, the company will issue an estimated bill and balance out any usage discrepancies on the next bill.
"If a customer receives an estimated bill, it will be adjusted the next time we take an actual reading of the meter, and the following bill will 'true up' the amount owed by the customer," Jordan said.
She said under normal conditions, the water company estimates usage on only 2 percent of its bills. However, in January, meter readers were able to read only about 86 percent of meters in the Kanawha Valley, leaving about 14 percent of customers with estimated bills.
The commission said if the water company cannot resolve the matter to the customer's satisfaction, consumers can file a complaint with the PSC.
The PSC has two complaint processes available to consumers: formal and informal process.
In the informal process, PSC consumer affairs technicians will contact water company representatives on the customer's behalf. These complaints are usually resolved through a negotiation and settlement process.
Formal complaints go through a hearing process that is resolved by a commission order, unless a settlement is reached first.
PSC staff will research and investigate each complaint, regardless of which type it is.
Informal complaints may be filed by phone by calling 800-642-8544 or online at www.psc.state.wv.us by selecting "Request for Assistance" under the "E-File" heading.
Informal complaints can also be filed by writing a letter to the commission's office at Public Service Commission of WV, c/o Customer Assistance, 201 Brooks Street, P.O. Box 812, Charleston, WV 25323.
Formal complaints can be filed by submitting a Formal Complaint Form, available for download under the "Forms" link on the PSC website, to the commission's Executive Secretary's Office. Additional instructions about the formal complaint process are available by calling 800-344-5113.
Susan Small, spokeswoman for the PSC, said the commission encourages utility customers to file informal complaints.
"We encourage people to file informal complaints because we can put staff on it immediately," Small said. "Within minute, they're in contact with the water company."
She said if customers don't receive the negotiated settlement they would like through the informal complaint process, they can still move forward with filing a formal complaint and request a hearing.
"One process does not preclude the other," Small said.
For more information about both processes, visit the PSC website and click on the "Consumer Assistance" link.
Jordan said the company can work with customers if they do not have the money to make their monthly bill.
"Our customer service representatives will work with customers on a plan to pay the balance of their bill over time," she said.
Jordan said some customers can also qualify for other customer assistance and discounted billing programs. More information about those programs is available by calling the company's customer service line.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at busin...@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4836.