Woman’s utility bill goes through the roof

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A Cheektowaga woman says she was shocked to find out her elderly mother had switched to a utility company that was supposed to save her money, but instead her bill went up – way up.

Theoretically, Energy Supply Companies (ESCO) can sell customers gas or electricity for less money than a public utility. But in this instance, it actually cost Carol Hangen a lot more money for her natural gas.

Her daughter, Elizabeth Hangen, was outraged when her mother received a bill for $1,100. She immediately called National Fuel, only to find out her mother had been switched to another provider: Columbia Utilities.

The private company based in Brooklyn markets gas and electricity. Carol says salespeople were going door-to-door in her neighborhood, but she never agreed to switch.

“They came to the house and asked if you wanted to sign. They said it would be cheaper to sign with them, that my electric and gas would go down,” she recalled.

Instead, Carol’s bill went through the roof. A printout obtained by her daughter from National Fuel shows the stark difference – about $800 – between what Columbia Utilities charged for gas and what the bill would have been had her mother been serviced by National Fuel.

Columbia Utilities, also known as PALMco Energy, has gotten the attention of authorities. Two years ago, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reached a nearly $3 million settlement with the firm to repay several hundred New Yorkers who were shortchanged.

“This case is a very good example of the kind of scam that proliferates when you have hard economic times, and something like high energy prices that make people desperate for a better deal,” Schneiderman said at the time.

A spokesperson for Columbia Utilities told News 4 that customer satisfaction is important to their company and they will return $424 to Carol. That doesn’t make up the nearly $800 more than what Carol would have spent at National Fuel. The spokesperson said they are still working on it.

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