WORKED FOR THIS GUY
KELOWNA – Media attention got an almost immediate result for a local celebrity who went to the news with a $4,500 power bill for a cabin that wasn’t even there.
Gary Fong, a world-famous photographer and inventor made headlines last week when he went public with a massive bill for his luxury cabin that burned to the ground in January. His story went nation-wide, and was the top trending story on Facebook yesterday.
He received the bill, in excess of $4,500 for the billing period between May 19 to July 17, earlier this month. The original story went public Friday and by Monday Fong found out he didn’t in fact have to pay.
A spokesperson for Fortis B.C. admits the recent media attention surrounding the unusual overbilling got him to the top of the list of customers who say they have been overcharged.
“We did want to resolve this because it was made public,” Michael Allison says. “It may have been a couple days prior to his regular billing date but it would have (been resolved) regardless.”
Allison stops short of calling the overbilling a mistake, however and blames the gate at the property for preventing access.
“It was definitely a miscommunication,” he says. “If a reader encounters something that prevents them from access… an automatic bill estimate is generated to ensure that billing continues.”
He says once a verified meter reading is taken, a calculation is made to ensure the bill is accurate.
“Yesterday our advanced metering system came online in Kelowna and it allowed us to acquire an actual meter read,” he says. “The past two bill estimates have been cancelled and Mr. Fong now has a credit on his account.”
He could not disclose why there was a credit rather than a zero balance but says it could be because of an overpayment sometime since March when a Fortis employee last made a physical read.
Since Fortis started installing Smart Meters, many users have come forward with similar stories of what they call "routine overbilling."
In March, Kelowna resident Katie Krebs said Fortis billed for more than double what it should have been. To add insult to injury, Krebs says she was belittled, questioned and threatened with disconnection when she pointed out the error.
“They asked us if there’s something going on at our house that they should know about,” she says. “Do you think if I had a grow op I would be calling them in tears complaining that I can’t feed my kids or pay my mortgage this month because of my power bill?”
Fong believes he got special treatment because of his celebrity and urges everyone who feels they have been overcharged to go public.
"It's very telling," he says. "They greased the squeeky wheel and only the squeeky wheel. If Fortis is guilty of improper billing practices then everybody needs to be credited."
Allison, however, urges customers to instead contact their customer service department if they have any questions about their bill. He would not say how often that happens or how long it usually takes to resolve.
“We don’t want any customer to feel like they need to go on social media… to solve their problem.”
Allison says roughly 98 per cent of Smart Meters installed in Kelowna are online as of Monday and users in Kamloops, Vernon and Penticton should see activation in the fall.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-718-0428. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.