The Potomac Electric Power Co., ending a winter moratorium on residential cutoffs, dispatched work crews yesterday to begin shutting off power to as many as 200 delinquent customers a day.
Officials said that some of the work crews may have to work overtime to handle the delinquency load that has been built up since Dec. 15, when cold weather halted disconnections. The District of Columbia prohibits residential disconnections when the weather forecast for the next 24 hours is for 32 degrees or below. Pepco has adopted the District rule as company policy in Maryland and Virginia.
"April 1 is when the bell rings . . . when the temperature no longer is severe enough to represent a risk to life and limb and when we begin disconnection activity as a regular part of company operations," said John Derrick, vice president of customer services.
The number of Pepco customers who will be cut off will depend on how many pay their bills or make payment arrangements at the last minute. But at the end of March, 32,905 Pepco residential customers owing a total of $2.3 million were behind on their bills by 60 days or more. That averages out to about $69 per account. Those who are 60 days or more behind and don't respond to warning notices delivered by the company in keeping with government requirements, will be cut off, Derrick said.
"These are customers who generally have been unwilling to work with us and make reasonable arrangements to pay off their arrears over a period of time," Derrick said.
He said customers with overdue bills should telephone Pepco at 833-7500 to work out a payment plan and avoid the inconvenience and the extra expense that can occur with disconnection of service. For a customer to get power restored after a disconnection, for example, he must pay the arrears, a reconnection fee ($3 in Maryland and Virginia and $15 in the District of Columbia) and a deposit based on annual electricity use.
During April, Pepco will keep its main office at 1900 Pennsylvania Ave. open seven days a week to accommodate customers who want to pay overdue bills and avoid disconnections. Weekend hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Derrick said that the cutoffs are being made in compliance with the regulatory requirements in effect in the three area jurisdictions.
"We aren't going out there willy-nilly cutting people off," he said.
In the District, for example, the company must send a notice to the customer 15 days prior to disconnection. Then, at least two days prior to disconnection, the company must make a reasonable effort to contact the customer by phone or in person to let him know of the pending disconnection plan. In making that contact with the customer, the company informs the person how the disconnection can be avoided. The customer can pay the overdue bill to the company representative and avoid disconnection.
If the customer isn't home when the Pepco representative arrives to disconnect service, Pepco won't shut off power. Instead, the company representative leaves a message that disconnection will take place the following day.
The procedure in Maryland and Virginia is slightly different. If the delinquent customer isn't home when Pepco goes to the residence to disconnect the service, Pepco shuts off power rather than give the customer another day.
Derrick said that Pepco won't necessarily lose all of the $2.3 million that delinquent residential customers owed in March.
"They may pay before they are disconnected or they may pay later in order to be reconnected," he said. "And most of them do pay so that we ultimately collect most of the money."
In some cases, customers skip town without paying their bills and that money ultimately is written off by Pepco as a bad debt. Derrick estimates that bad debt is only a fraction of one percent of the company's annual revenues.
Last year, when revenues totaled about $1 billion, the bad debt from customers, commercial as well as residential, totaled $3 million. "That is an expense of doing business," Derrick said. "And it is charged back to the [paying] customers."