GILMER, TX (KLTV) -
More than 40,000 customers across East Texas rely on Upshur Rural Electric. Recently, our station has been inundated with messages from concerned customers who said prices have increased with no obvious reason why. They told us when they call the customer service phone numbers they never get through, leaving them without an explanation.
In this 7 On Your Side report, we were able to get in touch with Upshur Rural Electric Co-Op to answer some of their customer’s biggest questions.
When Mary Spayde opened her electric bill, last month, she panicked.
"The difference between one month was scary because it went $200 higher in a one-month period," she said.
She has kept all of her Upshur Rural Electric bills since 2011 and it's always been pretty consistent, until now.
"This year we wasn't prepared and it kind of hit us a little hard trying to figure out how we were going to come up with the money to pay it and all the other bills on top of it," she said.
Mary also said her family had made an effort to limit their electricity use, but it didn’t help, and neither, she said, did Upshur Rural.
"I've called and every time I call all I get is busy signals. I had a friend who called and they put her on hold for 45 minutes. They haven't answered any questions for anybody that I’m aware of," she said.
We've received dozens of emails with similar concerns, so we took all of those messages to Upshur Rural. Here is what Upshur Rural Electric General Manager Robert Walker had to say.
"Anywhere from 500 to 800 calls a day has been quite a load, so we know we've had a lot of customers who have had a hard time getting in, but it's just been the call volume," he explained.
He told us they have 12 customer service reps to answer calls, but when that last ice storm hit, “what aggravated the situation was our local telephone company lost service,” he said. “So, Monday morning when people wanted to call and report their power out we didn't have phone service."
As for any cost increase he said, “most of our customers are using significantly more energy than they typically would in a winter time and for a longer number of days and months."
But, Mary still didn’t understand what more she could do, "a lot of us is not using any more electricity than what we were, but still our light bills are going up."
"As I said, October they might have used 1300 kw hours and in January they used 3,330,” he explained. “So, you're talking two and a half times as much use."
And about those days without power that so many wrote to KLTV about? He told us most were back up within four days.
"We'll look at it and say, okay, we've got the most people out in that one area, and we won't send everybody there, but we'll target more crews in that area to try to get the most people back on," he said.
Upshur Rural is a smaller company, so, Robert said, they don't have the resources some bigger companies do.
"But, at the end of the day we are a non-profit and we really are not here to take money from anybody. Simply, if we did, we would turn around and give it back to you."
He admitted there are issues and, though you may not have gotten through, he said they hear you.
Upshur Rural also said they are looking into an overflow call service and have already increased their call center. They also said there have been a few small rate increases. The first, each year there is an increase of $1.00 per month for a customer service charge. The second is a rate increase of about $4.00 per month for coal costs. The final is an increase of about $2.00 per month for gas costs.
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