Some Florida Power & Light Co. customers are complaining that the electric company has enrolled them in electronic billing without their authorization. As a result, those customers say they’ve missed payments, racked up late and reconnection fees, and seen their power cut off.
Once enrolled in “eBill,” those who want a paper bill in the mail instead say it’s hard to get back. So some customers have turned to utility regulators and even the governor’s office to fix the problem.
Juno Beach-based FPL, the state’s largest electric utility, said last year it added notifications and alerts to its eBill program, to make electronic billing easier for customers. But some FPL customers still seem to be having issues removing their accounts from eBill and restoring their traditional paper bill, as shown by complaints filed with the Florida Public Service Commission in Tallahassee.
In April, the utility introduced an eBill incentive program. A three-month trial was sent to select customers with the incentive of entrance into a sweepstakes to win $5,000.
FPL customers chosen for the trial — about 2 percent of its 5 million customer accounts — had previously registered with FPL to pay a bill or interacted with the utility digitally, according to Richard Beltran, spokesman for FPL.
But a letter received by a Broward County customer selected for the trial indicates those customers would continue getting their bills electronically after the three months ended, unless they opted out: “We hope you’re enjoying your introduction to FPL eBill. Remember after next month’s bill, you’ll be officially paper-free,” the letter from FPL says.
Participation in eBill is voluntary, and customers can elect to switch back to paper bills at any time by either calling FPL’s Customer Care Center at, or visiting , Beltran said. “If a customer feels like he signed up for eBill in error, we encourage him to call our customer care center so that we can resolve the issue,” he said.
Miramar resident Tony Acevedo, 47, recently ed the Sun Sentinel about being switched by FPL to eBill without his authorization. When he wanted a paper bill, he said it was difficult to find the correct page on FPL’s site. Finally, in trying to opt out, Acevedo said he received warnings, such as: “Are you sure?” and “You may lose out on some FPL benefits.”
“This makes the customers worried about going back to paper bills,” Acevedo said, saying such questions could intimidate some people into staying with the eBill.
Beltran said eBill helps consumers “manage their bills.” While Beltran said he couldn’t say how much the eBill program saves FPL, “keeping our operating costs low allows us to deliver electric service to our customers at a price that is 30 percent lower than the national average.”
Some customers, not satisfied with FPL’s customer-service response or unable to return to a paper bill, have filed complaints with the Florida Public Service Commission in Tallahassee, which regulates utilities.
The Public Service Commission allows utility customers to opt-out of paper billing, and if they choose e-billing, they should be able to opt back in to a paper bill at any time, according to spokeswoman Cindy Muir.
Vaughn Jacus, 53, of North Miami, said FPL switched him to its eBill program, even though he’s not aware that he has an email address. “I’m not computer savvy,” said Jacus, a retired construction worker.
Jacus said he never got a bill in the mail in September. Suddenly, he found his power cut off. A diabetic who needs to refrigerate his insulin, Jacus had to pay a re-connection fee to FPL to get his power back on.
So he filed a complaint with the Public Service Commission. In its official response to the commission’s inquiry about Jacus’ account, FPL said it removed Jacas from eBill at his request on Sept. 28.
More than 60 percent of FPL’s 5 million customers at homes and businesses receive paperless billing, Beltran said. Most customers report a “positive experience” with eBill, he said.
After Jacas complained to regulators, he said FPL apologized for his inconvenience. His account was credited back fees, according to commission records, he said.
“They tried to fix a wrong,’” said Jacas, who said he was satisfied with FPL’s actions.
Most South Florida consumers who have complained to regulators about FPL’s eBill have seen the matter resolved, according to commission records. In some cases, FPL credited back extra fees charged or reduced their deposits.
A Coral Springs resident complained in July that FPL was “purposely” enrolling customers in paperless billing “to cause customer to be late and charge a deposit on a active customer account.” FPL ultimately opened a new account for the customer, waiving the connection fee and reducing the deposit to the amount on her closed account.
A Fort Lauderdale resident complained in July that she had not received her billing statements in the mail for a year, but had received final notices for payment. She found her bills were being sent electronically to her son so she cancelled electronic billing in order to receive a paper statement.
After her complaint, her service was transferred to her mailing address and her deposit was lowered by FPL, according to commission records.