If you get your electricity service through East Central Oklahoma Electric Cooperative like thousands in the Muskogee area do, you have absolutely no way to dispute or get a resolution if your bill doubles or triples. Electric cooperatives in Oklahoma are not subject to the state Corporation Commission due to a law that allows them to opt out. East Central opted out of Corporation Commission oversight, so customers cannot complain to the state.
A private Facebook group created by disgruntled customers shows that many bills over the last year or so have doubled and even tripled, with many customers placing blame on “smart” meters, to apparently deaf company ears.
Many of the customers have done experiments, shutting off their electric devices — including heaters on the coldest days of the year — and data from their smart meters shows their usage actually increasing during that time period.
“It’s like they’re assuming we are using more because it’s cold,” one member said. “There is no way those are actual readings.”
Another customer tried increasing usage significantly one day to test the meter, and their meter showed only a two-kilowatt-hour increase.
East Central issued a letter on Feb. 5, acknowledging some billing issues and claiming to have addressed them, but the issues have continued until at least today.
Anna Politano, a spokeswoman for Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, said that group does not regulate cooperatives.
“We care about people,” she said. “People need to be safe in their homes with heating for winter conditions. We represent Oklahoma’s 30 cooperatives as a group. On situations like this, we try to work with the cooperative, making them aware of what the issues are and trying to help them resolve them.”
She said she is reaching out to East Central for answers today.
Representatives of East Central have not responded to requests for comment.
“I’ve been made aware of the recent billing increases to East Central Electric Customers in my district,” State Rep. Avery Frix (R) - Muskogee, said just now. “I’m in the process of making several inquiries to help resolve the situation as well as reviewing the governing statutes.”
Meanwhile, customers are getting a literally cold reception from the cooperative.
One customer said he was threatened, with a company representative telling him essentially to shut up and pay the bill about which he was complaining or “freeze to death.”
The Facebook group’s administrator posted the following in response to our request for comment:
ECOEC members are being overcharged, some by hundreds of dollars each month. Most have smart meters but some don’t. There is a history of many of us calling in to complain and until Mike O’Shaughnessy and I formed this group, the blame for the excessively high bills (a few have been more than a thousand dollars - for a single month) was put onto the homeowner. Every. Single. Time.
In January, as ECOEC first took notice of this group, they backtracked and said there was a “software error” that was responsible for incorrect billing going back to October but they’re refusing to acknowledge those who have had billing issues (and inflated kwh usage) going back much further. In addition, only a percentage of members got a credit for the “software error” and could be as little as $13 on a $700+ bill.
Families in this group are suffering. They have turned their heat down, are putting their kids in winter coats indoors so they don’t go into debt using their heaters, closing off entire sections of their homes so they don’t have to heat them, forgoing essentials like food so they can afford their electric bills, taking second jobs to pay their electric bills, etc. With all of that said, it doesn’t seem to matter what is done to curb these bills. The kwh usage seems to be completely arbitrary, often showing peak usage hours between midnight and the 4am or even middle of the day when homeowners are outside of the home at work. We’ve even seen homeowners posting their bills that show higher than average usage when they’ve been gone for days or weeks at a time on vacation.
It is extremely troubling and this is a humanitarian crisis, especially with the weather happening this week.
ECOEC is refusing to address this and we have an online anonymous drop-form set up for anyone who has inside information to share. We have since learned of some troubling allegations concerning the GM, Tim Smith regarding the pay and “perks” of his job and have heard there is also a culture of fear amongst many employees. It’s alleged they all must sign NDAs before taking a position there.
Mike was in contact with the GM for a little bit and was requesting specific information but was only getting some of the things requested and piecemeal. The bylaws state Tim Smith basically gets to decide what information he releases.
The only way for the cooperative to be put back under state oversight (which would allow the state to audit and address overbilling complaints) would be for the cooperative’s members to vote to go back under the Corporation Commission. Cooperative members also can vote to replace leadership.
Politano called and said an East Central representative will call before noon. When they do, we will update here.
UPDATE: Billy Moore, public relations officer with East Central, said the cooperative is not ignoring these complaints.
“We are addressing these. We offer them a meter exchange if they think the meter is wrong, where we do a reading, take their meter out, replace it with a different meter, test the old meter and in two weeks, we do a reading to see if there is any difference,” he said just now. “If we find that, we will credit them back their money.”
The cooperative also has a third-party company that tests the meters, and the cooperative has been in contact with the developer of the meter, asking that, if there is an issue with the meters, what would cause it, he said.
“We are trying to find out if it’s on our side or where it is,” he said.
Regarding the customer who was allegedly threatened by an employee, Moore said all calls to the cooperative are recorded.
“If that individual would like to call me and give me a time and a phone number for the call, I can listen to it,” he said. “If that happened, we will take appropriate actions.”
The cooperative will not cut off service to members during dangerous weather circumstances, he said. He said he did not have a temperature at which cutoffs are ceased, but if the weather was “unsafe,” the cooperative will not shut off members’ service.
He also promised to call back and provide MuskogeeNOW.com with a procedure where members could start the ball rolling to vote the cooperative back into oversight of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
“We’re not just sitting here waiting for them to call us. We are calling people every day, talking to them about their usage. Some of these folks are not in that Facebook group, they’re just members who called in with questions, we’re trying to work out information with them and figure out what’s going on.”