Error results in hundreds of City Light customers getting massive bills for unpaid electricity

Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities are sending out hundreds of letters notifying customers of outstanding balances on their accounts.

KIRO 7 discovered an error that misidentified a large group of customers as e-billing customers, but had no way to bill them.

This means some people could owe hundreds of dollars, KIRO 7 reported.

“You've got a year's worth of bills that have not been paid,” Seattle City Light spokesperson Scott Thomsen said.

KIRO 7 received copies of the City Light and SPU letters from a viewer.

The SPU letter states "due to an error in our billing system … you have not received an SPU bill since September 2016.”

The City Light letter echoes the yearlong problem for its customers, saying "the error in your bill was ours."

Thomsen said it all boils down to the transfer of data from City Light and SPU's old billing system to its new one, the new customer information system, known as NCIS, last September.

“About 1,900 accounts were flagged to be electronic billing accounts rather than paper billing accounts,” he said. “Those were customers who we didn’t have an email address for and had not signed up for e-billing.”

That means, he said, the system was calculating bills but had nowhere to send them.

Some people already had automatic payments set up, so they were fine. But others didn't and now have to pay for what they owe. Thomsen said about 1,900 City Light customers and about 270 Public Utilities customers were affected.

It's the second billing issue connected to NCIS. After its launch last fall, an error allowed some customers to see other people's bills.

So how did this happen, KIRO 7 asked. Was it someone's mistake in transferring data? A glitch? Or a system error?

“I cannot tell you what caused that error in the flagging,” Thomsen said. “There was an error in the flagging.”

Thomsen said it’s unclear how City Light or SPU found out about the lack of bills in the first place, but he said “understanding the issue and development of the letters started in September."

By law, Thomsen said, they have to bill customers for electricity used.

But they'll work with customers and waive the late fees.

“We're going to give them up to 12 months in order to pay that off,” he said.

Thomsen stressed it was a one-time error during the switch to the new system, not something recurring in NCIS’ operation.

If you are affected, you will receive a letter in the mail soon.

City Light customers can call 206-684-3336 or email
Public Utilities customers can call 206-684-5800.

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