Think no power means no bill?

HOUSTON If you still do not have electricity you may be thinking that your next power bill will be small, but think again. In fact most bills have already gone out and they do not account for outages.

Reliant Energy has been swamped with calls from customers complaining about the bills. The company sent out bills based on estimated usage. For those without power for a week or more it means you are not seeing a true measure of what you owe, but now the company is changing its billing procedures. "We're being billed for not having any power and they are reaping the benefits," said power customer Jackie Winn.

Winn spent two weeks without power, but when her Reliant Energy bill arrived it was for $38 more than the last month.

The reason? CenterPoint Energy cannot read meters while it fixes power lines. That means energy companies can only estimate usage and those who went without power are paying for kilowatts they did not actually use.

Winn says that is inexcusable.

"I really didn't expect to get a high bill with no power," Winn said.

Reliant Energy is hearing from a lot of customers like Mrs. Winn and the company is responding.

"We are actually going to walk our customers through how to read their own meter," said Bill Clayton of Reliant Energy. "From a basis of that meter read, we will determine if that customer's estimate is too high and if it is too high, we will tell the customer you only have to pay for the amount of energy that you used."

Customers can also get retroactive average billing. The company will change your bill to an average of your last year's worth of bills if that will help customers lower their current bill. Reliant is also offering delayed payment options to those living in hard-hit areas

There is something else electricity customers need to know, CenterPoint Energy estimates it will cost $350 to 500 million to fix the power lines due to Hurricane Ike. If the state agrees, the company will pass that along to consumers to the tune of a dollar or two a month on your power bill for the next 15 years. The state must sign off on that damage cost recovery plan.

If you want to pay the actual amount versus the estimate, call Reliant Energy next week. Right now they are still training their customer service reps on how to handle this. We'll let you know.

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