Here in South Florida, we’re still recovering from Hurricane Wilma. The biggest problem is lack of electricity, and Florida Power & Light (FPL) is doing a pretty good job at restoring it (FTR, I got power back on Saturday, and my office and Vix’s office are both open).
So most people down here are praising FPL, but I’m not. My problem is not with its efforts to restore power, but with its procedures while doing so. FPL is doing two things that infuriate me.
First, they refuse to provide estimates as to when particular addresses, neighborhoods, or even towns will be restored. Instead, all they would provide were dates as to when percentages of very large geographic areas would be restored. As an example, they said that by November 8th, 50% of southern Palm Beach County (where we live) would be restored, by November 15th, 95% would be restored, and by November 22nd all of southern Palm Beach County would be restored.
Such broad numbers makes planning a mite difficult - should we wait it out, or should we leave? If FPL would have declared that work crews wouldn’t make it to my town until November 2nd, the wife and I would have said “OK, it’s time to start driving north.” We could have gotten a hotel room in north Florida, or gone to stay with family, or just taken an impromptu vacation somewhere. But we didn’t know. We didn’t know when we would get power back or, more importantly, when our offices would get power back and we would be obliged to go to work. So we sat in the dark, for a very long time.
And what pisses me off is that FPL knew - it had to know - much more information. FPL knew where the damage was and, more importantly, they knew what their priorities were in getting electricity restored. They had 16,000 workers restoring power, and they had to give those workers instructions. Each work crew had a list of work orders, and those orders were generated from a master plan. So they knew when, or at least in what priority, power would be restored to my house. But they refused to tell us.
I’m not saying that they should have promised us a date certain, but they certainly could have posted their master plan. If we could have gone on-line and found that my block was work order #2,002, and they were clearing an average of 400 work orders a day, we would have known that we weren’t going to get power back for about 4-6 days. We could then have decided what to do.
But FPL didn’t do this. I think they didn’t because they didn’t want to look bad if their estimates of the pace of work was off. If they estimated that a neighborhood would get power back in 6-8 days, and it took ten, they’d have a PR problem. Well, tough. If you had a relationship of trust with your customers, then you could say, “these are estimates. We are doing are best, and we want to give you as much information as we can, but we can’t make promises.” If I went away based upon an estimate and came back to no power, at least I got away for a while to the land of hot showers and perishable food. I’d be a lot happier with a bad estimate than when the days of uncertainty, living in the dark that I experienced.
Second, because FPL is throwing almost all its workforce, including meter-readers, into the recovery effort, meters won’t be read this month, and FPL will issue bills based on estimated usage. Fine, that makes sense. Except that the estimates won’t take into account the fact that we lost power. Our bill for October will be based on our electricty usage in September, even though we had power through all of September.
FPL says that they will make adjustments and give credits on the November bill to make up for the estimate. FPL explains that it has more important things to do right now than give accurate bills for October.
That is horseshit. FPL, you know what you can do instead? Enter a modifier into the computer programs generating the October bills and reduce everyone’s bill in the affected area based upon your estimates of when power would be restored in each county. If that means you underbill some people for October, well, then, make it up in November when you do actual readings again. 90% of Palm Beach County lost power for at least some time, so you know that the estimated bills will be too high. Knowingly overbilling your customers sounds suspiciously like fraud to me. Why should your customers bear the cost of your current inability to do meter readings?