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Another Duke Energy Bill Problem

By Sid of Stone Marmot

March 22, 2016

I received my electric bill yesterday, Monday, Mar. 21, 2016, from Duke Energy. I quickly noticed Duke claimed I generated NO surplus power from my photovoltaic solar electric system. This has never happened before. The least surplus I have ever generated in the six years that I have had the system is 155 kwh for a billing period, with about 215 kwh being more typical.

I check my electric meter almost daily and I figured I generated about 260 to 280 kwh surplus to my needs during the billing period ending the middle of March (I don't know exactly because I can't accurately guess beforehand when Duke will read the meter). Duke claimed that the surplus reading the day they read the meter (Mar. 15, 2016, according to the bill) was 16165 kwh, exactly the same reading as the month before. Duke claims I generated 0 kwh surplus for this period.

So I immediately went outside and checked my meter. The reading on the meter at approximately 3:40 pm was 16,479 kwh, 314 kwh more than what Duke claimed they read six days ago. This means that, based on Duke's reading, my system generated an average of over 52 kwh surplus a day over the six days since Duke read the meter. This is impossible. In over the past six years that I have had this system, the largest surplus I have ever seen is 12 kwh for one day, with 9 to 10 kwh being more typical for a full sunny day with little electrical use.

I only have a 2 kw system. That means that my system can only generate 2 kwh per hour maximum, with 1.6 to 1.8 kwh per hour being a more typical maximum. In order to generate 52 kwh in one day from my system, there would have to be 26 hours of full noon-time sunlight each day. There are only 24 hours in a day, with the sun being set (dark outside) for half of those hours this time of year. Plus my neighbor's trees shade my system most of the morning and my own trees shade the system late in the afternoon. Plus it rained Saturday and was cloudy part of Friday and Sunday, so I was generating less than normal those days. So it is absolutely impossible for my system to generate 314 kwh over any six days, and especially the past six days.

Figure 1 is a copy of my Mar. 2016 power bill with the personal info blacked out. Figure 2 is a blow up of the area of concern on the bill. In the upper right hand corner of Figure 2 the “Billing Period” is listed as “02-12-16 to 03-15-16.” This means that the “Previous” readings on this bill were read Feb. 12, 2016, and the “Present” or “Current” readings were read Mar. 15, 2016.

Figure 1- March 2016 electric bill.

Figure 2- Blow up of area of concern in March 2016 electric bill.

The “Current Received” reading is what Duke claims was the actual reading for generated surplus electricity (actually, net power flowing out of the house) made Mar. 15, 2016, which is listed as “016165,” or 16,165 kwh. But Figure 3 shows a photograph taken Mar. 21, 2016, at 6:15 pm, six days later (and a couple hours after I read the meter after first seeing my recent bill), of the actual meter reading. This photo shows 16481 kwh, 316 kwh more than what Duke claimed they read six days earlier.

Figure 3- March 21, 2016, meter reading of net power flowing out of house (same as current received).

I suspect the actual meter reading Mar. 15 was somewhere between 16,425 to 16,445 kwh, which is 260 to 280 kwh more than the previous month's reading. As stated earlier, I don't know exactly because I can't accurately guess beforehand when Duke will read the meter. This is what I was expecting and typical of my monthly use. This would also mean that I generated between 36 to 56 kwh surplus in the six days, or 6 to 9 kwh a day, since Duke read the meter and I photographed it, which is again more typical for my system. Since I have solar power, net metering, and a special meter, my meter has to be read manually and is not read remotely via electronics. I suspect the meter reader misentered the number into whatever data logging device they use or it got misentered into the billing system. For whatever reason, the “Current Received” reading was never updated on the bill. In other words, an honest mistake.

I immediately called the Duke Customer Service number and to try to explain the problem. After an hour and 13 minutes of trying to get the right person, most of that time spent on hold, I gave up, figuring I'll try the next day (today). Today I did get a hold of someone named Xavier after eight minutes of trying. Xavier said that the bill states that it is an “actual” reading and the “actual” reading can NEVER be wrong. He claimed that I must have been using at least enough electricity every single time the sun was shining to cancel out any solar power being generated. Though that is possible with some households, it has NEVER been the case in my house for the over six years I've had the system. As I said earlier, the least surplus I have ever generated is 155 kwh for a billing period and I typically check my meter daily to see if everything is as expected and was typically seeing my surplus increase by 9 to 10 kwh a day for this billing period. My present meter reading being over 300 kwh more than the Duke reading just six days earlier and the fact that is is impossible for my system to generate that much power in six days was beyond his understanding. But he did say that he forwarded my problem to billing and they will investigate and get back to me in two days.

This is the third time since I've had my solar electric system installed that I've had a billing problem. The night of June 22, 2010, a tree in my yard suffered a direct lightning strike. My power meter apparently stopped recording any new data from that moment on. I notified Progress Energy (Duke bought Progress Energy about 3 years ago) about the situation the next morning shortly after their office opened. It took Progress Energy over a week to come out and fix the meter. They estimated my electrical use for that time the meter was off line and added the estimate to the data that was still in the meter when it went off line. But they did not do the same for the power I generated. I lost about 100 kwh of power generation credit for that billing period.

The second time was on my February 2015 bill the claimed “actual” reading for electricity used was MORE than what my meter was reading the day I received the bill seven days later. After a bit of effort, I finally got a hold of an engineer named Nick who admitted that the actual reading he had in his records was what I suspected it was and he probably hit the wrong key when entering the number into the billing system, since the correct number and the incorrect number are beside each other on the keyboard. See Watch Duke Energy - Problem (Probably) Fixed - Day 3 for more detail.

I'm presently assuming this is an honest mistake, or, at least, I give Duke the benefit of the doubt. Everyone makes mistakes. After all, last year's problem in February was an honest mistake and I feel I initially overreacted. But for many of these corporations and government service providers, particularly entities with monopolies, they always assume that they are always right and the customer is ALWAYS wrong. It is near impossible to prove that you are right, even if you have photographic proof.

Some may claim that the surplus will probably be read correctly for the next bill, so the surplus isn't going to be permanently lost, just delayed a month. There is some serious problems (potentially legal) with this, which I may discuss in the future.

Incidentally, for the record, Figures 4 and 5 show my power meter readings as of 4:42 pm today. See my article Stone Marmot Goes Solar: Part 6, Modern Power Meters Don't Run Backwards for info on how to interpret these readings.

Also, I would also suggest that Duke customers, particularly those with solar electric systems, check their bills very closely. If I'm having these billing problems, how many others have similar problems but never notice them? How many others have the smarts to even recognize they have a problem?

Figure 4- March 22, 2016, meter reading of net power flowing out of house (same as current received on power bill).

Figure 5- March 22, 2016, meter reading of net power flowing into house (same as present actual on power bill).

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