Law firm considering class-action lawsuit against Seattle City Light

Another batch of Seattle City Light customers are seeing sticker shock from their latest electric bills. They say their bills have doubled -- even tripled.

This comes as a Seattle law firm McNaul Ebel gathers customer complaints to potentially file a class-action suit against the city for overcharging customers.

Most of the customers in the latest round of bill spikes say they saw a spike in their bills after transitioning “advanced metering” or getting smart meters.

Now many of those customers say they believe they’re being overcharged, and some are considering signing up to participate in the potential class-action lawsuit.

“Very shocked, sticker shock you would say. So we contacted Seattle City Light and basically we got no response,” said Rick Rowell, who lives in Magnolia.

His most recent electric bill shows a usage chart that says his September usage this year has tripled compared to last year.

“See, consistent usage, then boom. The anomaly is just crazy,” Rowell said.

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His neighbor Kristen, who preferred to only be identified by her first name, said her bill spiked to over $600.

Kristen said over the phone that she’s in between jobs and called the staggering bill “horrific.” She said bills have her worried about making ends meet.

Comments on social media show even higher bills.

The customers all say they recently got a new smart meter, which eliminates the need for an employee to come and check usage.

Rowell couldn't get an answer from the city about why his bill spiked, but Scott Thomsen with Seattle City Light looked at Rowell’s bill with KIRO7’s Deedee Sun.

The city admitted the switchover played a role in Rowell’s bill as well as the spike of complaints.

It’s the latest round of trouble for the utility company.

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“The situation like this that the Rowell’s are dealing with, it's really an estimated read problem,” Thomsen said.

He said no one checked the Rowell’s meter in July – and that read would have gathered data from parts of May, all of June, and most of July. But because that meter wasn’t checked, the usage rate was estimated.

Thomsen also said because the city is essentially phasing out role of the employees who check the meters, more estimates have been necessary lately.

“In some instances we’ve had short staffing days, where that may have added to the number of estimated reads that has been taking place over the last couple of months compared to what we would’ve liked to see,” Thomsen said.

But people like Kristen still believe that they’re being charged incorrectly. And she plans to sign up on McNaul Ebel’s site to participate in any potential class action lawsuit.

The website reads, "It is alleged that Seattle City Light overcharges its customers for electricity by billing customers for incorrect estimates of their electricity usage rather than billing customers for their actual electricity usage (which would result in a lower bill) in situations where Seattle City Light has obtained, or is able to obtain, the actual usage data for its customers. "These billing practices are contrary to Seattle City Lights' representations to its customers regarding how they will be billed."

It encourages customers to reach out, “If you are a Seattle City Light customer and you believe you have been or may have been overcharged for electricity by Seattle City Light.”

KIRO7’s Deedee Sun asked if City Light had anything to say to customers who are considering participating in the lawsuit.

“I'm not going to discuss any potential litigation that might come up through this. What I will say, advanced metering is accurate and it's going to improve our ability to get our information that we need,” Thomsen said.

Thomsen said he expects the situation to continue to improve, adding that the city has added customer service reps and hold times should be decreasing, and the installed smart meters should keep improving the situation.

The city has installed about 390,000 smart, or advanced meters throughout Seattle so far and Thomsen said they still have about 30,000 left to install with a goal of finishing that work before the end of the year.

Thomsen encouraged anyone with questions about their bill to call, and said if it couldn’t be resolved through billing City Light would send a representative out to talk directly with a customer.

Rowell doesn’t plan to sign up for any potential lawsuit but said he’s hoping City Light will improve their customer service and be more transparent.