Some 12,500 Seattle residents received inaccurate electric bills this week, reflecting charges around twice as high as their actual balances.
Magnolia resident Michele Marchi was “shocked” when the bimonthly bill she received from Seattle City Light this week was for about $720, up from around $240 on the last billing cycle and about $400 in the same time frame last year.
“I was like, ‘How? We didn’t really turn on our Christmas lights that often and our usage overall is down from last year,'” Marchi said in a phone interview Thursday.
So Marchi posted in neighborhood-based social media site Nextdoor, asking if others had seen similar increases, and found many of her neighbors had also received outrageous bills.
“If I hadn’t have been paying attention, I might have just thought it was a really high bill, but it was not just me,” she said.
While City Light customers were due for a net increase of about 2.1% at the start of the year, an error in the city’s system caused duplicate charges for some customers who use e-billing.
“The system billed customers for usage at both the 2021 rates and 2022 rates, essentially doubling the bill total,” City Lights spokesperson Jenn Strang said Thursday in a written statement.
According to Strang, about 12,500 residential customer bills processed over Monday night reflected the error, or about 3% of the city’s roughly 430,000 residential meters.
“Approximately 600 payments were applied to the accounts between Jan. 3- Jan. 6 with about one-third of those payments appearing to be payments on past balances and not related to the Jan. 3 bill,” Strang said.
But the city was able to stop other bills from being processed with erroneous charges after noticing the early bills were inaccurate.
“We learned of the issue in time to prevent paper bills from going out and payment processing for those customers on autopay. However, customers who are signed up for e-billing may have received an email alert with the erroneous bill,” Strang said.
For restitution, the city will “reprocess all incorrect bills and send revised bills to impacted customers,” noting that they expect to issue new, accurate bills by the end of the week.
For bimonthly customers, the bill reflects a period from late October through Jan. 3; for monthly customers, bills covered consumption from late November through Jan. 3.
Customers who already paid the bill should contact 206-684-3000, and the city will “remedy the situation through an expedited refund process.”
According to Strang, 7,300 customers who are signed up for e-billing “may have received an email alert that a bill was ready with the incorrect amount.”
“About 3,000 of those are on autopay and may have received an email saying a payment was scheduled for the incorrect amount,” Strang said, noting that those payments were stopped before they could be processed.
A similar notice has been posted on the city’s website.
In September, the city reached a $3.5 million settlement in a lawsuit against Seattle City Light filed by residents who received inaccurately high bills. The August 2019 lawsuit says Seattle City Light improperly billed some of its customers based on an estimated usage of electricity, rather than reading meters.