Complaints flood HECO and PUC - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Complaints flood HECO and PUC

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Irrate Hawaiian Electric Co. customers have flooded the local utility and the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission about the company's new billing system.

Consumers said they're being overcharged -- sometimes by as much as hundreds of dollars. But when they call the company to complain, they find themselves on hold for long periods.

The new billing system replaces HECO's decade's old payment processing system and will allow the company to install advanced smart-grid technologies and bring on new sources of renewable energy.

HECO maintains that its bills are accurate but now confirms it was unprepared for the influx of billing complaints.

The company said it recently hired a Mainland call center to handle the overload but that provider recently laid off a number of employees and is struggling to keep up.

HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg apologized again today and said the company is working hard to fix the problem. The company has increased in its own customer service operations and its mainland vendor has also beefed up.

"The call volume is more than we expected and the outside vendor had some staffing problems at the same time," he said.

"The problem is people are frustrated because they can't get through the call center."

The new billing system replaces the company's old payment system. it will help HECO develop new smart-grid technologies and bring on more renewable energy sources.

Mindy Spatt, spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group, says it's a bad idea for a utility to outsource any of its customer service functions.

"You could very much as an imperfect storm brewing if you have a new billing system and a set of inexperienced customer service representatives that have absolutely no idea what's going on on the ground," she said.

HECO maintains that the bills it sends out are accurate.

but for those who disagree, there are options besides waiting on hold with HECO.

Consumers can file a complaint with the state Public Utilities Commission or the Hawaii Consumer Advocate. Those agencies can initiate an investigation if it finds widespread problems.

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