Florida Power & Light: Its desires trump its customers' needs.

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?


If it’s determined that they overbill in their estimates, will they be offering those customers credits in their December bill?

I would say the reason for the First thing is that if they get the estimates wrong and someone sits in their house without power for extra days, and I dunno, trips and falls and dies, they’ll get their asses sued.

I would say the reason for the Second thing is that you don’t introduce new code to massive business systems on the fly. “Entering a modifier” would mean going in and adding entirely new function that would allow that modifier to be entered. Database fields, calculations, etc.

What they are allowed to do for their billing is almost certainly regulated by the State Utilities Commission and I am willing to bet that provisions for estimated billing are allowed in emergency situations, so it is in no way fraud.

When my power company in NY overestimated my bill (I forget why they could not read the meter - snow I think) they credited me to the penny the next month. I assume Florida Power and Light has a similar system in place.

OK, then provide no estimate. Just post a list of the order of repairs. Let the customer make the estimate. Just give us the information.

FPL is in South Florida. In the past fifteen months alone, significant portions of FPL’s customers have had outages from six hurricanes. They shouldn’t have to do it “on the fly” - it should be part of their accounting programming.

Oh, I’m sure it’s legal. But law and morality are not the same thing. FPL can as easily underbill their customers when they are unable to read meters as overbill. Given they can correct it either way when they are finally able to read meters again, and they choose to overbill, I call that fraud-in-fact, even though it is not fraud-in-law.

And sure, in the end, the customers will not be overcharged. FPL will make accurate corrections in the next bill. But why should FPL have their customer’s money when they are not entitled to it? Why should FPL, not their customers, earn interest on that money? Just because you will eventually pay somebody back is not justification for demanding money that was not earned in the first place.


I know it’s frustrating but look at it from the Utility’s side.

Point One: They have no way of knowing when a particular neighborhood will have its power back. Until the check every single line, substation, and transformer, there is no way to tell the extent of the damage. That takes time. Any date they give would be pulled out of an oriface it had no business being in. If they were to say, “We think power for Willow Heights might be back on around the fifth,” you could damned well bet that at twelve midnight on the fifth they would be deluged with complaints from people who “were promised they would have power by now.”

Point Two: Estimated billing is a bitch. It really is. I hate it. On the bright side, when they do the actual billing, you should get a nice, fat credit. When you get your estimated bill, check your meter, and write down the actual reading. You may even want a photo of the meter and the day’s paper. That would only help you to claim your credit.

If you don’t get the credit you should be entitled to, then bitch. Bitch hard. I wouldn’t worry too much: Progress Energy (IIRC, FP&L is owned by them) has always been honest when I’ve dealt with them.

One more thing: You probably already know this, but please make sure your and your neighbors’ AC is turned off until the lights are back on. It would be a shame to blow out a circuit within two minutes of the lights coming back.

I am quite certain that they do not have nearly as much discretion as you give them over how they will do bill estimates in this case.

And they will take accounto f your outage

No. Progress Energy purchased Florida Power, not Florida Power & Light. Florida Power was my utility here in west central Florida and is now Progress Energy; FPL provides service in southeastern Florida and is still FPL.

I’ve already said that merely posting their order of priority of repairs would satisfy me. FPL spokespeople repeatedly said that they had such an order of priority - “critical infrastructure” (grids with police stations, hospitals, etc.) first, then areas with high density population. They effectively declared that they had a list - so publish the damn list.


Ah, but if they were to publish the list, then they would have to field questions of the “Why do THEY get power before US?” variety. Or they may end up in civil court because “[Area X] has more [insert ethnic group here] than my area, and they got power first. FP&L must be racist!”

I’m not saying you’d do this. In this case, you’re just a schmuck who has no power, but the people across the street has had power for three days, and they WON’T TURN OFF THEIR PORCH LIGHT!!! HURRICANE FLOYD CAME THROUGH A WEEK AGO, AND HALF MY STREET HAS LIGHTS AND A/C, AND ALL I WANT IS A WORKING ALARM CLOCK AND A HOT SHOWER! IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK? IS IT!!!

Just saying, is all.

I think that you are much more reasonable and forgiving than a lot of their customers. To many, that list wouldn’t be enough and they would bitch like hell if the priority changed. What if your area got bumped down in priority? Would you call and raise hell about it? Probably not, but many would.

Without publishing the information, FPL is free to juggle the priorities as they see fit without worrying about offending anyone and having to justify their decisions.

I have nothing to add to the discussion; I’m just stopping in to say that it is so refreshing to see “its”, “its” and “customers’” punctuated (or not) correctly. Aaaah.

Not if they are smart they won’t. Publishing a “Who goes first list” isn’t going to benefit them in any way. They won’t get the customers on sooner and they sure as hell will get a lot more complaints about the list than they will get praises.

They will get you on as soon as they can. Its in their best interest to do so. If you aren’t plugged in they aren’t making money from your purchase; money they need to recover their losses.

Ironically, I’m usually very good with said words (and grammar in general), but today I’m in brain freeze - I had to edit several egregious errors in many of my posts on preview.


This will be little consolation, but Florida Power & Light is certainly not alone in refusing to make any more than the most general estimates as to when power will be restored. American Electric Power (which has a bad reputation in my area for frequent and prolonged outages) has rarely given any material information to customers about causes of outages, whether crews are on scene for repairs or when power might be restored. They made a better effort on estimates during our 4 1/2 days without power after an ice storm last winter (though the actual response left much to be desired).
If a utility publishes a priority list it will catch hell from business and residential customers, politicians and the like. No one will be happy if they are not near the top of the list. Estimates are dangerous too, especially if the utility is trying to save money on overtime and other expenses. Much better from a utility’s standpoint to remain vague, emphasize how terrible conditions are and how hard everybody is working. Then after a particular crisis is over, you spend money that should be going towards better equipment and more personnel, on self-congratulatory ads and on wining and dining members of the Public Utilities Commission so your next rate increase can go through expeditiously.

What i want to know, in situations like this, is why the company can’t simply decide not to issue any bills at all for a month, and then bill everyone for their actual (rather than estimated) usage the following month.

I guess it’s possible that the company might not have enough cash reserves to run for a month without billing. Ayone know anything about the typical operating reserves of a large power company?

I can think of two reasons why holding off on billing customers for a month would be a bad idea. You’ve already mentioned one; it would wreak havoc with the balance books, and shareholders do not like things like that.

The second reason is if they were to skip billing for one month and apply the charges the next month, then those customers who have power would be hit hard. Now instead of dealing with complaints from just people without power, they would be dealing with complaints from all their customers. No, better to just piss off some customers than all of them.

But this is a bit of a moot point as Gangster Octopus pointed out, when calculating the estimated bill, FPL will take into account the days where there is no power.

I can understand not wanting to do it if the result would literally be not having enough operating capital on hand. But if the result was merely a temporary shift in the balacne books, and normality were restored with the following month’s bills, then i don’t see where the problem would be.

I don’t quite get the problem. Presumably, customers would have an idea of how much money needed to be put aside for this month’s bill, and could then add it to the money required for next month’s electrivity usage, and pay a two month bill. It’s not like anyone will actually be paying out more money than they otherwise would have.

How would anyone be “hit hard”? They would be paying out exactly the same amount of moeny over that two motn period, only in one single check instead of two sepearate checks.