Updated: Oct 12, 2022
Outdoor lighting is a valuable service provided by electric utilities and also a common source of billing errors. Yet, because lighting charges are a small part of a larger electric bill most customers gloss over them assuming the lighting charges are correct.
When utilities bill for outdoor lighting there are two components in the charge. The larger is a fixed monthly charge for the cost of providing and maintaining the actual light and pole. Each combination of pole and light fixture has its own monthly charge. The table containing all of these combinations often fills more than a full page in the utility’s rate schedules.
The second component of the lighting charge is for the actual electricity being used. Because utility owned outdoor lighting is unmetered and controlled by a photocell, the monthly kilowatt hour (kWh) consumption for each light is estimated using the wattage of the light and its annual hours of operation. This monthly consumption is then multiplied by an approved price per kWh to calculate the electricity component of the monthly charge.
Errors happen in two ways:
1. A mistake is made when the light is initially entered into the billing system, and the light/pole combination is recorded incorrectly. This simple mistake leads to an error in both the fixed monthly charge and the kWh charges for the light. Because the error occurs before the charges ever show up on the customer’s bill; the charges start out wrong, are assumed to be correct and can literally go on forever. An error that causes a bill to be incorrect by $50 each month doesn’t sound like much, but when the error repeats every month for twenty years the utility has overbilled by $12,000!
2. Lights are changed or removed in the field, but the billing system is never updated. A classic example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. Field crews that install or remove lighting and the office staff in the billing department represent two very different parts of the utility. We were involved in a situation like this when a hospital built a new parking garage over an existing parking lot. Before construction began, the utility removed over one hundred lights from the parking lot. The new garage had been operational for three years before an audit of the hospital’s bills revealed they were still being billed for the parking lot lights!
Have questions about the lighting charges on your bills? We’d welcome the chance to answer them, just give us a call at (813) 917-8952 today.
Hi, I'm Kent Hobart and I'm different. I've been blessed with a knowledge of utility billing and rate structures that is rare and yes, a little odd.
I started Utility Refund Specialists as a way to use my unique skills in serving organizations like yours. We audit our client's utility bills, identify errors in the billing, then work directly with the utility providers to make sure our client's funds are returned. I know, it sounds crazy but 4 in every 5 clients we work with have errors in their bills.
The incidence of errors is so frequent and the refund amounts are large enough, we can perform the audits for free. There is no cost to you unless we secure you a refund!