Power company's mistake means higher bills

HOUSTON When you buy something, you pay the bill and go on with your life. But when it comes to your power bill, that is not always the case. It's something customers of First Choice Power are learning with their December bill.

Diana Hudson says something strange is brewing with her latest power bill. Her December bill is $493. She says the amount is much more than it should be.

That's where a letter to First Choice customers comes in. It was mailed at the beginning of December and warns, "We did not bill you for all of your energy charges in the month of November."

Now Hudson and other First Choice customers have to pay up. In Hudson's case, the company forgot to add the First Choice power residential service fee -- an error of $315.

"My God, the timing," Hudson said. "People just bought kids presents, you know what I am saying?"

First Choice is giving customers time to pay the back service fee.

Hudson explained, "They say you can call and get an extension on your bill. They will only give you a 28 day extension, that's it. That's the best you can get."

That's right, 28 days to pay the company's $300 mistake. We called the Public Utility Commission in Austin and found state rules do allow a power company to adjust bills to recoup billing errors for up to six months. Additionally customers only get the amount of time it took to spot the error to pay the power company back.

In Hudson's case, she has to pay more than $300 plus her December bill by the end of January.

She said, "If you don't pay it, you lose your electricity."

We called First Choice Power and a spokesperson told us they will give customers who qualify more time to pay the billing error. They advise all customers who see the additional charge to call First Choice Power to ask about deferred payments.

State regulators say they don't know how often errors like this occur, because companies do not have to report billing errors and they have up to six months to collect when they make a mistake.

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