A progressive nightmare: Stuck in a sauna for seven hours

I wasn’t in the house when they cut the electricity yesterday, but I’m told it was swift and merciless.

A utility truck from Progress Energy, our power company, pulled up to the curb, a technician opened our meter, flipped a switch, and then scurried back into her truck.

And just like that, we were powerless at 11:45 a.m. on a blazing hot Central Florida summer morning. Within half an hour, the temperature in our house, which doubles as my office, hit 82 degrees.

Before she made a quick exit, the technician told Kari she couldn’t turn the power back on without an order.

And that’s all she did, she said. Fill orders. We’d have to call the 800-number if we wanted our electricity back.

Never mind that Kari dashed into the house and retrieved our most recent utility bill, which showed we paid for our electricity. In fact, we’d paid every utility bill on time since moving into the house nine years ago.

And never mind, too, that she’d demonstrated pretty conclusively that this was Progress Energy’s mistake.

Orders are orders, the technician stammered. And then she was gone.

For anyone thinking, “Come on, just open a window, make a call, and wait your turn,” you’ve obviously never experienced Central Florida in the summer. The heat is torture. Long-time residents describe it as a hot, wet blanket: humidity in the high 90 percentage and oven-like temperatures.

By the time I returned from running a few errands and found my family inside a powerless home, temperatures were approaching the mid-80s indoors. My office felt like one of those steam rooms with the warning signs posted that caution pregnant women and people with heart conditions to stay out.

But here we were, trapped.

Indifferent and patronizing

I dialed Progress Energy, spent close to half an hour on hold, and finally reached a customer service representative who agreed to investigate my arbitrary disconnection from the power grid. It turns out someone else who was moving to our neighborhood and wanted to set up new service had given Progress my address in error, and the company simply took their word for it. They closed my account and opened another one at my own address under a different name.

“I don’t understand,” I said. “I’ve paid my bills. I’ve been at this address for almost a decade. How can you do that?”

The representative — her tone of voice alternating between indifferent and patronizing — explained that under Florida law, it had to be done this way. The rights of the people who ordered new service superseded my right to power.

“But why not call me to find out if I want the power to my own home disconnected,” I asked, trying to stay polite.

“That would be impractical,” she said.

“But that’s not a law,” I replied. “That’s a policy.”

I should have kept my opinions to myself.

Customer service agents can quietly inflict misery on customers by moving them to the end of the line. Even though I was assured that my case had “priority” over the other disconnected customers — the ones who hadn’t paid their bills — I began to have my doubts as it neared 3 p.m., and temperatures in the house pushed 90 degrees.

What law?

Out of curiosity, I checked the Florida statutes on disconnecting utilities. Although the state has a variety of laws that address certain situations, such as medically-necessary electricity and power being cut off in the event of a law enforcement action, a write-up on a utility website summed it up best: The Sunshine State, it said, “Has no rules, laws, or regulations in place to protect residents.”

Several urgent calls later, there was still no power, and no sign of a utility truck. My interactions with the power company became increasingly absurd.


Rep: We have a truck in your area and you’re next on his list.

Me: Do you know where the truck is?

Rep: We do not.

Me: Really? You don’t know where your own truck is? Have you ever heard of GPS?

Rep: I’m sorry, we do know where he is. We cannot tell you for the safety of the driver.

Huh? They can’t tell me if the truck is 10 minutes away – or two hours away. What a circus.

By 5 p.m., it was 93 degrees in my living room. If you’re a sci-fi fan, you’ll appreciate this analogy: It was like that planet, Crematoria, on the Chronicles of Riddick. (See image above, courtesy of Wikia.)

I thought my cell phone, now down to just a sliver of battery, was about to burst into flames.

Well, just about.

I made another urgent call — my fifth of the day — to inquire about the lack of progress. A representative offered yet another empty apology, same tone of voice as all the others — a little “don’t care” and a little “stop bothering me.”

By now, I was certain that my attitude — polite, but firm and maybe a little too firm — had gotten me moved to the end of the queue. Another representative confirmed my suspicion. I was still due to be plugged in today, she said, but I was the technician’s final order.

Lucky me.

When the Progress truck finally rolled into my driveway at 6:45 p.m., it took only seconds to restore our power. No one bothered knocking at the door to let us know everything was OK. We had to figure that out for ourselves when cool air began streaming through the vents. I saw the utility truck’s tail light as it turned down the street, making a quick escape.

I learned a few lessons as I baked in my own office yesterday, unable to get any work done.

First, monopolies breed mediocrity. Progress is a de-facto monopoly in my neighborhood; my only other choice is to go off the grid and install a noisy windmill or solar cells, which I am sorely tempted to do now.

Also, when a customer service agent tells you they’re following the law, ask if they’d be kind enough to show you the law. My agent had no idea what she was talking about. She either didn’t know the difference between company policy, state law and doing the right thing, or she thought I wouldn’t be smart enough to figure it out.

And finally, when you’re embroiled in your own dispute with a monopolistic utility (and eventually, you probably will be) be as nice as possible while they’re fixing your problem. Keep your powder dry until power is restored. That’s the time to write to your state’s ombudsman or public utility commission.

I complained to a supervisor, and my seven hours in the sauna netted me yet another absolutely insincere apology, delivered in that same tone of voice — seriously, do they train them to all sound that way? — and a $25 Target gift certificate.

I’m not sure if that’s enough. What do you think?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Louise

    What would be enough?

  • Raven_Altosk

    I would file a small claims case for the spoiled food in the fridge and round it up to the statutory max for “harassment” or “emotional distress.” 

    I don’t know if it would get me anything, but it would cause the power company a headache…

    Or if you really want to game the system and exact some revenge, use some Google-Fu to get a home address on a few of the idiots you dealt with and/or the execs. Put in move/new service orders on their homes, since they obviously don’t bother to verify them. Might make them want to change their messy SOP.

    Yes, I’m feeling snarky and diabolical today.

  • http://jpportz.livejournal.com/ Jeremy

    The impact was worse for you than the average homeowner since you work from home.  With telecommunciations services, you often can order a “business class” service that comes with a stricter service level agreement, and I certainly recommend that for home workers.  I wonder if power companies should offer the same, with potentially strict penalties if standards are violated?  I suppose that won’t happen until monopolies are lifted.

    Here in Australia, we have competition in electricity retailing, with the actual service being provided by a government-owned grid corporation.  The retailers provide good customer service, since they’re in competition with each other, but  in a situation like this they can only do so much, since the grid corporation does the actual work to connect and disconnect.  I have a feeling if this occurred here, the time to reconnect might be about the same since the technicians would similarly just be following work orders from on high.

    Utlimately, natural monolopies like electric utilities require strong government regulation:  that’s the only option I can see.  You need your state to provide better consumer rights.

  • backprop

    “a write-up on a utility website summed it up best: The Sunshine State, it said, ‘Has no rules, laws, or regulations in place to protect residents.'”

    Just a note, a site called “needhelppayingmybills.com” is not a “utility website”

    As others have stated, there is the Florida PSC and small claims court for actual damages.

  • SoBeSparky

    The Florida legislature and governor, a monopolistic Republican club for almost 14 years, have given all utilities carte blanche.  Better business climate, they claim.  The lobbyists for the public utilities are paid millions each year to avoid the regulation common in other states.  The insurance industry has the single-party government in its pocket also.

    You are lucky to have received a Target card.  Of course you deserved more.  I would think a $100 bill credit might suffice.  

    Monopolies are always dangerous and that is why Teddy Roosevelt began the effort to regulate them when it was not in the best interest to break them up.  A government ruled by a monopoly is equally dangerous.  To use a common phrase, the relationship between the governing and the governed is bought and sold.

  • MarkKelling

    The power company needs to do a bit more checking before acting on a disconnect order.  They should at the very least verify the name of the customer requesting the disconnect matches the name they have on file for that address.  Probably would be better if they required the account number (usually not something that could be guessed) instead of just an address to prevent pranks.  You would think they would be hesitant to turn off power because it you aren’t using power, they can’t bill you and they lose revenue. 

    I fully understand how miserable it can be without air conditioning.  I grew up in the Houston, TX area.  100 degree temps and 100 % humidity from May thru September have you running from one air conditioned location to the next and avoiding being outside.  Downtown Houston has all of the office towers connected thru a tunnel system so the workers don’t have to step outside into the heat.  It looks like a ghost town at lunch time.  But there are many air conditioned places to go.  Shopping centers and malls. You can hang out there in the air conditioned comfort and people watch if nothing else. Or the public library.  No reason to suffer until the issue gets resolved.

    But I can’t answer the poll.  What is enough for this?  A $25 credit to your electric bill would have been better I think.  Did you lose productive work time?  Did any of your family members suffer from heat induced medical issues?  

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Chris, where I live it’s been in the upper 90’s and lower 100’s for pretty much the past month, with heat indices in the upper 100’s.  There’s another heat advisory posted now through Tuesday evening.  So, I have lots of sympathy for you.  The electric and gas & water utilities are monopolies here, although they’re public utilities, so they’re a little more responsive to state regulators.  But some of the customer service people have a real problem with attitudes, since they’re the only game in town.

    But why the heck didn’t the rest of your family leave for the day and go to the mall or the movies or some other air conditioned place, while you worked to resolve the problem from the home?  You also could have picked up your laptop and sought out a local wi-fi hot spot, like a public library or Starbucks, to get some work done.  I’m sure you do something like that when you’re on the road.  I really don’t see how you were trapped.

  • MarkKelling

    Solar cells and windmills only go so far.  While each may have kept you from being totally dark, it takes a lot to run the air conditioning and even if you had both may there may not have been enough power to keep you cool.  Also, getting something like a windmill past the zoning committee or the homeowner’s association restrictions make this a nearly impossible goal.  

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I like the way you’re thinking. 

    The CSRs only gave first names, no doubt for their own protection. But Julie and Naomi, if you’r reading this — take a bow!

  • betsy514

    Here’s the worst part – i’m guessing this is the only choice for power in your area.  So what are you going to do if you’re unhappy with their service?  Put a windfarm up in the backyard?  Buy a thousand hamsters and a REALLY big wheel?  When Verizon brought FIOS to my town, my local cable company suddenly got a lot friendlier and responsive.  Whether you’re a fan of capitalism or not, you can’t argue that competition generally breeds benefits to the consumer.

  • M Sarkar

    Just a phone call (no verification) can turn power off at any address? Incredulous! In this digital age, if one can’t call, may one SMS or tweet? I did pose that question on Twitter to @ProgressEnergyFL  299 1st Avenue N, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

  • M Sarkar

    I think any monetary compensation below, say the cost of a decent hotel for 1 day, would be an insult to any customer that has an impeccable history and gets cut off because “someone unverified called in a disconnect order”.

    If I handled CS at the utility, I’d apologize in writing, waive the month’s bill and, most importantly, assure the customer that our processes will be improved to prevent such disconnects in future.

  • M Sarkar

    Mark is correct. A small home-installed alt energy system cannot run an AC. It would have powered lights and fan(s) – fans would have helped!

  • jsiess

    one day in the sauna?! think of the thousands that have no air conditioning at all. quit whining.

  • jsiess

     food won’t spoil in one day–and see my other post

  • jsiess

     good point. i think it was because he wanted to play the martyr.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Doesn’t sound like Chris.  I do think that the stress of the situation was to blame.  As he normally advocates that we don’t panic or stress out and try to mitigate unpleasant circumstances when they occur, I thought it was fair to point out that even he can fall prey to panic or stress.

  • Charlie Funk

    Thank goodness it wasn’t an airline or you’d STILL be waiting.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    The kids were at camp for the day. Kari and I were at home and the work was piling up. We needed to be there to work.

    At first, the Progress rep made it sound as if a truck would arrive within minutes, maybe an hour at most. I wanted to be there, just in case they needed verification, or were having trouble reconnecting.

    After my cell phone battery and the battery on my laptop ran out, I went to the local coffee shop, then picked up the kids from camp, brought them home — and that’s when things started to go south. It was pretty obvious we’d been moved to the end of the line.

    A rep was now telling me we might be serviced as late as midnight. I had no way to make dinner, and we thought we might have to check into a hotel to get some relief from the heat.

  • Bernard Rappoport

    This is a company that has acted unethically and in a conspiratorial nature in its planned merger with Duke, and is being investigated by authorities in NC for making fraudulent statements.  If someone simply gave your address to have power cut off, why not phone back in, say your name is Jim Rogers, and give his address…see how much he likes it when his power is cut off and nobody bothers to verify if the name/address are correct.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LKHWSI5H6XYINENJT6DJ2UX7E4 Wrona

    When my electric company accidentally turned my power off a few years ago and I discovered it when I got home at 6:30 that evening, I had power back by 7:30 and a credit on my bill without having to ask.  For an accidental disconnect, especially with small children in the home (you did tell them you have small children, right), you should’ve been at the top of the list for a reconnect.  I would file a complaint with your PSC.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I’m with you, Raven.  As customers of power providers, we have no recourse when things like this happen and we have no choice to go with another utility company.  It’s not like we can just call another electric company.

    This happened to us a few years ago, in the midst of the Arizona monsoon season, and it took them over 24 hours to get to us AND they charged us an additional $45 for the “emergency” turn on.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Wow – that you attempted to turn this into a political debate…  I suppose it’s George Bush’s fault…

    Just – wow.

  • Nica

    They owe you a month’s free service and a REAL apology.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Chris – you don’t owe anyone any explanations for why you do what you do.  And I find it intrusive and incredibly rude for someone to post what Jeanne (initially posted – she redeemed herself later) and jsiess posted.

    When did we become a country of “I need to know every aspect of your life”.

    One of the things I can’t stand is having to call a business (such as was the case here) and having to explain the problem to every single person you talk to.  I’ve actually told CSRs, “I already know you can’t help me.  I was told to ask for Ms. XYZ” and them responding with, “Until you tell me, I can’t forward the call”.  Sooooooo, just to further it along, you tell them and they respond with, “I can’t help you with that”.

    DUH!!!!!  But thank you for delving into my private life and forcing me to deal with you for an additional three or four minutes.

  • y_p_w

    A good sized home solar array could easily power a room air conditioner.  Even if one has central A/C, a room A/C could be installed, including one of those portable ones that send the exhaust heat via a duct to the outside.  I think a generator could even power one of those.

    In addition to that, the peak time for sun is also typically the time when A/C would be needed.

    A decent sized home solar array is about 3 kW.  A 2.5 ton A/C might use about 4 kW when running, but even more when starting up.

    At an old house I had an older A/C which had a habit of eating up fuses.  I used two 30 amp delayed fuses, but they kept on burning out until I got a new A/C.

  • S E Tammela

    How much ruined food did they cause with their ineptitude? Take stock and then call your ombudsman. 

  • S E Tammela

    Food WILL spoil in a day if ten frozen roasts have begun to thaw and you are forced to cook them all.

  • y_p_w

    I remember going to work at my company’s office near Phoenix for a week.  The stay kept on getting extended until I finally packed my bag and was ready to head for the airport at the end of the day.  Then it was pretty clear that it would take an additional day and I’d already checked out of the hotel that my company assigned.  They said it was a “corporate rate” but I didn’t think it was very cheap.

    I had to find a place to stay and saw one place nearby that had a good rate.  I mentioned where I was staying to someone at work, and he asked how it was.  He said that he needed a backup plan if his home A/C broke down, and this place advertised a $28 rate (right on their sign) during the summer.  It was an extended stay place with a kitchen, so it would be pretty good for a family.  During the summer very few people visit that part of Arizona for obvious reasons. However, the rates make those places good backup plans for the possibility that they’ll need a place with working A/C.

    For some crazy reason lots of people visit Central Florida during the summer when it’s crazy hot and humid with risk of hurricanes, but I guess that’s another story.  I don’t know if hurricanes cause a lot of destruction that far inland, but they certainly bring a lot of heavy rain.  I’m thinking the kids don’t care about all that as long as they can go to Disney World when school is out.

  • y_p_w

    I remember when my local regulated utility used to have excellent service. If we had an issue, there would usually be someone at our door in less than an hour.

    Of course that’s gone south over the years.  They provide a free pilot lighting service for those who can’t figure out how to do it themselves.  I know someone who asked me to help out when the local utility said they could schedule it in 3 weeks.

  • Lisa M McN

    I think compensation must be equal to the inconvenience and loss of the customer… food, beverages, medicines (some cannot be stored over 85 for too long before the breakdown), any loss of computer data or appliance, or a burnt control system as the main power going off or on may cause a surge that could overrun a surge protector…  It really does not seem unreasonable to at least verify or double check against their records of the address, and if the names do not match up, then try and figure it out. That could take what? 3 or 4 phone calls at the most, once the discrepency is found?  So typical and so sad.  I am always overly sweet when dealing w/ any agency, it does not always get better service. One is still at the bias of the agent and their team.

  • IGoEverywhere

    I would be contaqcting the state Attourney General and file a formal complaint against the utility. You might get a little something back, but the utility will spend hours filing the answers to your complaint. In WV they must send out 10 separate answers to 10 separate departments. Revenge is sweet……….I am sure that you also have a legal buddy to find out to file a legal claim against the utility company.

  • Relayer56

    Why didn’t you just throw the switch to turn your power back on?

  • pauletteb

    So someone carrying a grudge could simply phone the power company, give them your address, and get your power cut off? Making one “impractical” phone call to verify the cutoff order would have saved the power company the hassle of multiple calls with an increasingly upset customer. Sounds pretty practical to me.

  • ClareClare

    Do you know where the HQ (or at least an office) of your electric company is?  I wonder what would’ve happened if you and your wife had just driven up, walked into their lobby (no doubt kept around 58-60 degrees) and said, “We don’t have any power at home, because your people wrongly cut it off. While we’re waiting for you to correct your mistake, we assume that we can use yours, right?  I’m just going to plug my laptop and phone charger in over HERE.  And where’s your microwave?  Must be one in your lunch room–where is that, please?” 
    Too late now, but… wouldn’t you like to know how they would have reacted?  Your wife could’ve videotaped the expressions on their faces…

  • kakeyte

    increasingly it seems the title of the post bears absolutely no relation to the accompanying article. I really thouight someone had been trapped in a  sauna. Silly me.

  • Preston Bauman

    I think this speaks more to what we have come to expect and are willing to put up with. How does a Boston Tea Party sound?

  • technomage1

    Compensation should include any loss of income you suffered from not having power, as well as the cost of a hotel room (had you chosen to stay in one), and any food you had spoil from not having power.

    I understand the mistake, but it should not have taken 7 hours to fix. 

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Glad you like my headlines!

  • sirwired

     Actually, it’s Duke that’s being investigated, not Progress.

  • sirwired

     Usually the power company will attach a lock to keep this from happening, and/or flip a switch at the curb transformer.  Otherwise people that were disconnected for non-payment would just flip the switch to get their power back for free.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Thanks for the update.  It really *does* sound like you followed your own advice to others. 

    I think that’s the entire point of your blog; how to learn from others’ situations, so that we don’t suffer so badly when things happen to us.  Maybe you could update the post when you get a better resolution to why a utility can willy-nilly turn off the power without advance notification to let us as consumers know how to protect ourselves or take action after the fact. 

    Keep your “cool” and let us know.  Remember that my offer of an adult beverage still stands if you ever get to the Omaha area!  :)

  • SoBeSparky

    No.  I did not attempt to turn this into a political debate.  It already was.  My dictionary defines politics:  “The activities associated with the governance of a country or area.”  Fact is, utility regulation (or failure to regulate) is purely political, being performed by elected governing officials or those appointed by the officials.  

    This blog entry is about a clearly out-of-control electric utility monopoly.  This monopoly appears to be loosely regulated as demonstrated by Chris’ facts.  “The Sunshine State, it said, ‘Has no rules, laws, or regulations in place to protect residents.’ ”  After 14 years of a governing monopoly, the political party in total control must assume responsibility.

    It is no coincidence that total one-party rule breeds this.  It does not matter which party.  One party rule is a monopoly, just like the electric utility.  I cited a Republican President in noting the evils of monopolistic behavior.

    Problem is today, many people fail to look at facts.  They only look at their loyalty to their own political party dogma.    

  • LeeAnneClark

    Don’t forget to include lost income due to the fact that you work from home, and without power your computer won’t run!

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Terrible ordeal for nothing.  Sorry that happened, Chris.

    I am a little confused about a couple things you said, however:
    ” It turns out someone else had given the company my address in error, and Progress simply took their word for it.”  
    Is Progress not who you pay your electricity bill to?  Who was the other entity involved?

    “The representative — her tone of voice alternating between indifferent and patronizing — explained that under Florida law, it had to be done this way. The rights of the people who ordered new service superseded my right to power.”
    Were you cut off in order to accommodate new customers for some reason?  I thought from elsewhere it was a matter of them mistakenly thinking you hadn’t paid the bill.

  • LeeAnneClark

    So it shouldn’t matter that he’s PAYING for it, and didn’t get it?  Okay, fine…next time you pay for a service and don’t get it, shut the F up and don’t complain.  People are dying in Biafra.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    That part of the story is really confusing me. I’m hoping Chris will elaborate.  If I’m paying my bill directly to the electric company, why would an outside entity have any say whatsoever?  That’d be like me calling your cable company and saying “Disconnect pauletteb because she hasn’t paid.”  They’d just ignore me because they’d know you were paid up.  

    I’m wondering if there wasn’t a second entity involved, like Chris’ utility bill gets paid to one place but the actual electricity was provided by somebody else and there was a communication error between the two?

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I’ve clarified this in the post. Someone moving into our neighborhood gave Progress the wrong address and set up a new account under my address. And yes, it can happen to anyone. That’s what is so troubling to me.

  • judyserienagy

    Of course their “compensation” was insulting, but you’d be too old to care by the time you force anything else out of a utility.  Didn’t you know that the power company’s back office is populated by employees who didn’t qualify to be TSA agents?

    I live in the country and several years ago our transformers were all blown by a monster lightening storm.  One day went by, the power company’s computers repeatedly told me I had power, so I would punch buttons on the phone until my outage got back in the queue.  On the third day without power, I finally reached a human being named Fred.

    He told me the trucks were up on my hill.  I said “Freddy boy, I’m going out in my truck to find them and if they aren’t there, I will come down and strangle you”.  Sure enough, when I drove back there, the trucks were on their way to my house. The guys said they were going to restore my power right now and then go back out and get the rest of the properties.  I  too am always understanding and polite, patient to a point, but this time the threat of strangulation delivered with a laugh seemed to have done the trick.

  • sunshipballoons

    More than enough, considering you were entitled to nothing.  My feeling is, if you don’t like living in a state that chooses not to protect consumers, you have two choices: (1) lobby your legislature to actually enact consumer protection laws; or (2) move somewhere that chooses to protect consumers.  This is what an unregulated utility gets you.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    *YAWN* Thanks for the nap…

  • bodega3

    Glad you got back up!  I can’t imagine that heat.

    But now, go buy a generator!

  • scapel

    Not sure what tactic to use to get results, but I heard of
    one that seemed to work. A resident called the police department stating that someone was in his shed robbing him. He was told that they were busy but  a policeman would be there shortly. Twenty
    minutes later the resident called again and was assured that someone would be there shortly. Fifteen minutes later the resident called and stated that they could cancel the call since he the resident had gone out to the shop and shot the robber dead. Three police cars showed up in 3 minutes with lights and sirens glaring. Maybe this person should have called and reported that a lineman had been electrocuted in his front yard after he turned on his generater.

  • MarkieA


  • http://ladylighttravel.com/ LadyLightTravel

    What about Florida identity theft laws?  Someone gave Progress your address (in error) but Progress should have some sort of obligation to verify that you are you.  I would suggest investitgating that route to see if there was a violation in that arena.

    If there are no laws, I would also contact your state rep to see about getting things changed.  State reps love this sort of thing.

    Thirdly, I have a recommendation for you and your family.  Get a generator and maybe some solar cells (or both).  I grew up in the country, and when we lost power it would be for weeks at a time – the power company was slowly working their way out toward us.  A generator helped many times.  You will also have some protection in case of a major disaster/power outage (tornado, hurricane).  Considerit a good insurance policy for not just your family, but your work.

  • patienttoapoint

    having problems of my own with Verizon–been without my incoming caller ID for months, been on the phone with so called customer service people for HOURS and nothing but excuses.  Lastest one, hard to believe, just kept telling me about his veritgo.  March-almost August is a Long Time–this service is supposed to be part of my “package” with them

  • http://ladylighttravel.com/ LadyLightTravel

    Hey Chirs,  I did a little research.  There is a thing called “red flag rules” that utilities are supposed to operate under.  The utilities are obligated – under federal law – to develop a written “red flag program”.  This rule was implemented under the FTC in 2009.

    At a minimum, I would ask for a copy of Prgress’ red flag rules policy.  They may have broken their own rules and perhaps violated the law.

  • sdir

     I’m a little alarmed you’re supporting the idea of fraudulently having someone’s utilities cancelled.  It was a miserable situation and I wouldn’t blame anyone for being upset, but put the blame on the company, not the workers following policy.  THIS is the reason you only get a CSR’s first name, because some people will do crazy things when they’re upset.

  • Grant Ritchie

    I hope you’ll pursue additional compensation, Chris. If Progress isn’t called to account, they’ll have zero incentive to stop treating their customers like dirt. And please let us know how things shake out. Good luck!

  • jennj99738

     Come on, Chris, you knew how the headline would be read.  You’re a travel writer.  I thought there was someone trapped somewhere, maybe in Finland, who got trapped in a sauna.  the headline was a bit sensationalist, don’t ya think?

  • Raven_Altosk

    Apparently Sdir has not heard of sarcasm. While it’s tempting to give these hacks a piece of their own cake, this wasn’t intended to be taken seriously.

    Jeez. Do I need a sarcasm tag!??!

    FYI, the small claims thing wasn’t sarcasm.

  • Alan Gore

    Though this incident is a lulu of a consumer problem, there will inevitably be criticism that it’s not travel related. What’s relevant is the uncaring attitude of a large company whose entire public face is a website – exactly like all those airlines we know and loathe. Online service is great for handling routine transactions, but when something happens that requires you to talk to a person, there is no way of getting one. In an increasing number of cases, we find that there is no human behind the website at all.

    But the Internet cuts both ways. Corporations can use it to insulate themselves from their customers, but now we can use it to publicly name and shame. Consider this week’s McDonalds customer beatdown incident: because of Net publicity we all found out about it, reacted to itand McDonalds corporate could no longer get away with simply ignoring the customer.

  • sdir

     Honest question, do you really believe you were bumped to the end because you were upset with the CSR?  As a consumer advocate, I’m assuming you didn’t swear at or belittle the CSRs, so why would they forcefully bump you?  Being in customer service myself, I’ll cut a customer a lot of slack, especially if they have a legit gripe, but not if they start swearing or making personal attacks.  The reason for being bumped may have been something less deliberate, such as other callers with medical issues being brought to the front of the line and thus, moving you to the back. 

    You still had every right to be upset, however.  The entire situation was ridiculous.

  • jennj99738

    I had something similar although less painful.  My cable company, Cox, disconnected my cable not once, not twice, but three times over the course of two weeks because another customer didn’t pay his bill and his line was in the same utility box as mine (condo complex).  Someone tagged the line incorrectly and this happened.  It took about two days per disconnect to get the cable back on and then it would get disconnected again.  I received two months of service credited to me.  That I believe was a fair resolution, considering how high my cable bill is.  Otherwise, I would have filed a complaint with my public utilities commission, which is what I recommend Chris do.

  • sdir

     Perhaps I was caught in an off moment, but I didn’t catch the humor.  Probably because I’ve seen customers pull similar craziness just to be petty and vindictive.  That, and I wouldn’t expect a consumer advocate to entertain the notion of doing such a thing, even if it was sarcasm.

  • Alan Gore

    Some travel advice: midsummer hotel rates in Phoenix are so low that you can routinely book motel-like rates at the five-star resorts in the city, like the Phoenician or the Biltmore. These rates are advertised only to locals and are intended to spread word-of-mouth for the lucrative winter season. Go ahead and experience some workweek luxury at a place that would normally blow your accounting office’s head gasket.

  • sdir

    Now the big question: They won’t charge you for service hookup will they?  After all this nonsense, watch your bill closely, because I wouldn’t trust them not to muck up something else.

  • pplaresilly

    I am glad you shared your story, even though it was a ‘not your fault’ problem, it’s nice to hear that ” tough shit” situations happen to the best of us.  I will take YOUR esteem advice an bite my lip next time I find myself in a customer service ‘back of the bus’ situation.

  • TonyA_says

    You can also try to get the utility comp to pay for the rotten food in your fridge and freezer. While at it, charge them for a hotel room. Maybe your homeowner’s insurance will help.

  • TonyA_says

    I have 2 generators. Neither can power the whole house central ACs (I have 2 of them, too) well. You will need a big generator for the ACs. Probably not worth it. Just go to a nearby hotel. it’s cheaper.

  • MarkKelling

    Wasn’t a disconnect for non payment. It was a move request.

  • HeyItsK

    “They closed my account and opened another one at my own address under a different name.”
    I’m surprised that they would close an account that had a balance on it without full payment first.  Even though you pay your bill each month, there would still be some days of use since your last payment.  More likely would be if someone was moving from one address to another, transferring the balance to the new address and shutting off service to the old address.

    I do sympathize with no a/c for the day!  

  • Lindabator

    What would have been more appropriate would have been to deduct a couple days from the bill to make up for what was THEIR mistake – and the gift card.  

  • Lindabator

    HAHAHAHA!!!   I DO like the way you think – this was inexcusable by ANY standards – so I can just sign up my own name on ANY address, no proof I actually live there, and the poor suckers inside get to fry?   Hmmm…..don’t give our folks here any ideas – :)

  • bodega3

    This might vary by state.  Been there, done that as the saying goes, a few times  Here in CA I could file a claim for spoiled food but there was no provision for an accommodation stay .  I believe there is minimum time period for the power to be out before they accept the spoiled food claim.

    While I have the floor, I will give my spiel that everyone needs to be readly for an emergency.  Being in the heat qualifies.  Get a generator so you can run a fan, or run your refrigerator or both depending on the strength of the generator purchased.  We have a responsibility to take care of things for ourselves while we wait for help, regardles off whose fault it is.  I have organized my neighborhood for emergency preparation.  After Katrina, it was really brought to light that you need to be ready to care for yourself.  Sadly, we have lost our survival skills and in an emergency is not when you want to get things together.  I don’t have to worry about the type of heat Chris gets, but we get cold, so I will never be without an alternate source of heat and fuel for it.

  • Lindabator

    Amen – heck, the local Starbuck’s could have sufficed — we had a bad thunderstorm July 5th – at 5:30 am, power blew.  They couldn’t guarantee service until between 9:30 pm – 11:30 pm on STURDAY the 7th (nice timing, at the hottest days we’d seen).  Luckily, I wasted time in the evenings at a local diner, and then spent my nights in the basement (70’s) so not TOO bad – but believe me when I say – I sympathize!

  • Lindabator

    Seriously?  I worked with a customer service rep who PURPOSELY overcharged a client’s credit card till it was maxed out, just to be a b#### because he’d “bothered” her – and he was in the right!

  • TonyA_says

     I guess Floridians don’t freeze to death.
    Unfortunately where I live, we use deep wells for water. So no power equals no water.
    Oil and Gas Furnaces just need AC for the fans so you can get by with a push (wheeled) generator with 220VAC.
    I just used BOTH (a Robin-Subaru and Honda) my generators a few days ago. Nasty thunderstorms caused havoc in Connecticut.
    My kids already trained when power goes off. Flashlights, head lamps and other gear beside bed. Do not use water left on tank to flush. Do not open Freezer. Wire the generators. Etc. etc… What a life. Sounds like we live in a third world country.

  • TonyA_says

     LOL but very true !!!

  • Lindabator

    Frankly, I think you NEED to take this to the State Attorney General – that is the most RIDICULOUS thing I’ve ever heard – we need to provide proof of address to get the permission to turn on the energy at a house, and if there is someone still living there (like they have already sold the house, but you have not taken ownership yet), they and you are notified as to which time/date they are responsible for their bill, and you are then the new bill-payer.  This sounds like a bunch of chimps run Progress!!!  (and here I thought we could complain!)

  • Hunter45

    Curiosity overwhelms.  If I were to move to the area of Odessa, would I be stuck with this monopolistic uncaring company?

  • bodega3

    I’m on a well too. When I use up a bottle of bleach, I fill it up with water.  We have several stored in each bathroom for flushing.  We keep extras in the garage.  I have many bottles of water that I have purchased stored and I rotate them to keep them fresh.  We use them on road trip for coffee to help in the rotation.  We have 4 bathrooms, so when the kids were home, everyone, during a power outage had their own to use and flush as needed.  We also can use the neighbors pool water or pond water, hence the neighborhood emergency organizational list of what we are all willilng to share in the case of an emergency.  Hey, give me more, I’ll give you suggestions!

  • Michelle C

    Cox cable has the WORSE customer service.    They get their employees from the ones TSA “let go.”   HORRIBLE HORRIBLE HORRIBLE COMPANY.  I’m surprised you got a credit.  

  • Michelle C

    I would be sending them a bill for spoiled food, lost wages, and a hotel room.   What about reporting to the local news and see if they will inform the public of what can happen.    

  • bodega3

    There would be no spoiled food in a 7 hour power outage.  There was no hotel stay.  What you are suggesting is fradulent.

  • cowboyinbrla

    No, it won’t “spoil” in a day. However, many frozen items, once they begin to thaw, cannot be refrozen raw – they must be cooked, and then you have to eat them (or freeze the cooked food, IF it’s something that freezes well). Meat, for instance, is not safe to re-freeze.

  • andi330

    The thing about the truck driver’s safety is actually true. I’m sure you personally are not a crazy person who would go beat up the truck driver or worse, but those people are out there. I used to work in a call center. We had psychos call in and threaten to blow up the building, threaten to come beat representatives up etc. It’s the same reason they don’t give out last names. Because if you can figure out where the call center is, and have the representative’s first and last name, you can figure out where they live, and that’s a safety issue. I know it was frustrating and uncomfortable and I hate to say it, but by calling in over and over, you probably made your situation worse. You’re right, you were probably bumped to the bottom of the list because you ticked someone off.

  • cowboyinbrla

     It’s possible that every other customer had some issue like “medical concerns” that pushed him to the bottom of the line. Unlikely, however. The bulk of disconnect/reconnect orders in any electrical utility are either for people who didn’t pay a bill, or for someone moving in or out of a residence. “Late pays” are routinely low on the reconnect totem pole. It sounds to me as though there’s no status code for “ooops, we screwed up and turned him off by mistake”, and so he got lumped in with all the other disconnects and reconnects for the day.

    It’s not hard to move someone to the bottom of the list, either. My partner is a dispatcher for a utility (in another field) and he routinely moves jobs from one technician to another, all day, so that appointment deadlines can be met by techs closer to the work than the original one scheduled. It would be child’s play to shift a reconnect order from one tech to another all day just to keep delaying it, particularly if it’s not flagged for a deadline-specific timeslot. My guess is that the folks answering the phones got tired of pulling up his record, seeing that he’d called repeatedly, and started moving the reconnect order later and later in order to “show him who’s boss’.

  • jsiess

     if you don’t open the fridge/freezer, nothing will even defrost in one day.

  • jennj99738

     What surprised me was how quickly Cox was able to get someone out to disconnect the line 3 times!  I can’t get that fast service when I’m actually paying for it. 

  • jsiess

     i am sorry. i didn’t realize chris was writing about himself. however, my statement that it was only one day and others do without air all the time still stands.

  • andi330

    Speaking as a former call center representative (for a different industry) I can say that you would absolutely not have done any such thing. Because if you did that with any kind of regularity, you would get fired, and wouldn’t be working for them any more.

    I suspect Chris could have gotten more if he’d pushed. Most call centers have a limit to what they’ll give, but they certainly don’t start by offering the max. Of course, he didn’t indicate in his article if he tried for more than what he got, and this was all they offered, or if he just took the first offer.

  • $16635417

    Several years ago, after a major weather event, we had no power for over two weeks. One day, right in the middle of it, a utility truck parked down at the end of the street (it’s a dead end).Two guys were in there sleeping, right in the middle of the day, for about 4-5 hours.

    My crazy neighbor lady decided to go wake them up and bring them 2 small bottles of orange juice with a cheery “good morning”, a passive aggressive message to be sure. It turns out the guys had worked all day the day before, through the night and all the next morning. They were from halfway across the country and the hotel they had been staying was not available anymore. Many local residents had taken to staying in motels and hotels that had power, so their company was having difficulty finding a room. They were given permission to stop working and catch up on some sleep however they could. They slept in the cab of their truck, windows open in 90 degree heat and high humidity, simply because they were exhausted. 

    We ended up being in the last 1% to get our power back…I always wondered why.

  • cowboyinbrla

    So…. anyone who lives in a state has a responsibility to actually LOBBY  the legislature to enact laws on every single aspect of life that might need regulation – or else they should shut up and move?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kali-Dallas/100002764369496 Kali Dallas

    I had a somewhat similar, but reverse situation with my telephone service when I moved in to this house.  Placed my order, received confirmation that the service would be turned on that Saturday (moving day), only to receive an email from Verizon at 4:30pm on Friday night that, because someone already had existing service at this address, they could not connect my service.  (Have to wonder why Progress Energy doesn’t have a policy like that?)

    Now I should mention that this is a rental property which had been vacant for several months as the owner did some renovations, and there was definitely no dial-tone indicating there was any service.

    Of course, with it being a weekend, nothing could be done, and the next available time a service technician could come out to investigate the problem would be Tuesday.  Tuesday mid-morning, the technician showed up, did some line testing, and verified that there was no active service…then he left!  I was fit to be tied!  About 15 minutes later, he returned, and explained that, “Ma’am, there were some wires connected improperly at the switching box down the street.  I’ve got those fixed, and you should now have phone service.”  All great, well, and good…except he couldn’t install my dsl internet connection, that would have to be a different department…and I would need to schedule an appointment with them!

    After about 4 hours on the phone with Verizon, and one very wonderful customer service rep, I got all installation fees waived, and a priority dispatch for Wednesday – rather than Thursday or Friday, as I’d originally been told.

    Sometimes you really have to wonder at Utility companies!

  • Michelle C

    There is nothing fraudulent about my statement.  Read it again instead of immediately cheer-leading for corporate stupidity.   I (BIG BOLD LETTER of I) would get a hotel room so there would be a bill, and 90+ degrees without a working refrigerator can cause spoilage after 4-6 hrs depending on ambient temperature and how full the refrigerator is but I’m sure you are a master of refrigerator insulation, temperature changes, and food storage :rollseyes:      Notice I didn’t say what SHE should do.

  • Michelle C

     I’m surprised they didn’t charge you your neighbors past due bills plus a reconnection fee.    My local Cox would.

  • Michael__K

    When I moved my land-line service away from Verizon to another carrier years ago, I had a nasty surprise exactly 7 days before the scheduled cut-over.

    Verizon closed my account prematurely and my phone line suddenly went dead in the midst of a call on a Saturday morning.  As far as they were concerned, I was no longer their customer and there was nothing I could do to get my service turned back on without getting in the new customer queue and waiting several days for an installation appointment.

    Thankfully my new carrier saved the day and re-scheduled my installation appointment for that night.

  • Jennifer Black

     You  may not be able to find out the name of the CSR’s who were so “helpful”, but you can certainly find out the name of the head of the electric company, and the head of the state regulatory body.   And it would certainly be a shame for any of them to have a mistaken “move order” posted to their home account. 

    Not that I’m suggesting that you do this of course, but with a strongly worded letter perhaps they can imagine the indignity of being shoved to the back of the line for a reconnect all day and might be able to effect some changes top-down.

  • cowboyinbrla

     True. Of course, that also means you can’t open the freezer to get out, say, ice to make a cool drink to survive. Or any frozen food you were already planning on cooking.

  • Trey

    Time to find the name and e-mail address of the president. Maybe the phone number too.

  • $16635417

    I was able to get even with the cable company once. They needed to come  replace the box, it was working fine, but for whatever reason they needed to replace it. (I think they were replacing suppliers and needed to clean out the old boxes and put in the new supplier’s.)They offered to come by between 8am and noon or 1pm and 5pm any weekday.

    I told them I don’t make appointments during those times, but I would be happy to be there for them between 7-8pm Mon-Thu. Again they offered their times and I politely declined and advised them I would be ending the call. 

    Ended up the local cable office manager called me the next day and wondered if someone could come by any Monday-Thursday between 7-8pm to replace my box. 

  • sdir

     I respect Chris for not playing the “I have kids card”, since they were at camp all day.  Once the kids got home and the utility kept pushing back the reconnect time however…

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I decided to check with my local power company, Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), to see how they handle stop service requests.  A new owner CANNOT stop service for the previous owner.  The previous owner has to make the request him/herself – see this form: https://myaccount.oppd.com/rsa/StopService.aspx

    Notice it contains identifying info – last 4 digits of Social and OPPD account #.   Customer service rep for OPPD said normally they verify such requests – e-mail or phone or letter, depending on contact information they have on hand.

    You know, I’d check to see if Progressive requires any sort of identification to stop or move service.  I’d do it, but I don’t have an account with them, and they require a log-in ID and password:  https://www.progress-energy.com/florida/home/start-stop-service/move-service.page?

    If they DO require ID, then Progressive screwed up big time by ignoring their own verification process.  $25 is laughable.  I’d move that baby right on up to the top and see Messrs. Rogers and Dolan have to say about that.  See http://www.duke-energy.com/about-us/leaders.asp for Progress Energy’s chain of command – they’re part of Duke Energy now.  Duke Energy is the nation’s largest provider of energy, according to them, and if little ole’ OPPD can do it right, why not the biggest electric company in the US?

    If they DON’T require ID, then may I predict that a certain consumer advocate and Progressive customer will be in touch with local media and/or regulatory authorities to create public demand for such?

  • bodega3

    I fill empty milk cartons up with water and freeze them, keeping the freezer constantly full.  If the power goes out, it keeps the freeze colder longer and I move some to the refridgerator to help keep the food cold.  We also use our ice chests with these frozen ice cartons   We also try and keep a bag or two of store purchased ice for emergency purposes.   It keeps longer and can be used during the year for making homemade ice cream or margaritas :-).  Want ot compare emergency prepardiness?

    I read your post as directing Chris to present false bills, not that you would be taking it upon your self to get a hotel….which for a 7 hour power outage  would probably not be covered.  Go to a mall, a movie to stay cool.   

  • Ralphgot

    Unbelievable. The way Progressive operates, if someone didn’t like you, they could call and have your electricity turned off. No verification. How can that be?

  • http://www.blackchickontour.com/ Terri Lundberg

    She could then bill them for the movie?

  • Nikki

    I experienced the very same thing with Tampa Electric Co. (TECO) when I lived there… they disconnected my electricity when it was supposed to be the next-door neighbor’s – and when I complained, they took their sweet time getting to me to turn mine back on. 

    That’s one more reason I’m all for deregulation.  Progress, TECO and the likes of them – they suck fetid canal water.

  • MarkieA

    Funny story about the robbery, but – if it’s true – I bet the cops that did show up arrested the guy for filing a false police report. You can’t win.

  • MarkieA

    The problem is that you know it’s only a 7-hour outage AFTER the fact. When you’re in Hour 6, as far as you know, it could go on for many more.

  • Bill___A

    One would have thought that, upon Progress Energy realizing the mistake, they would have felt some remorse and bumped the reconnect up to the head of the line, rather than having their techs go and disconnect more.

    They didn’t take ownership of the problem and didn’t deal with it in a timely manner.

    One must wonder about their business processes and ethics if they are to take so long to fix a problem they created.

  • bodega3

    Yes a hotel is an option but you should still be prepared at home.  We were cut off, due to flooding, downed powerlines and trees for 4 days and couldn’t get to a hotel.  If you live in a area that power outages are an issue, a complete home generating system is something to consider.  My inlaws had one that would kick on within 5 minutes of a power outage.  At times, they never knew it was on and it ran the heater or ac. 

  • bodega3

    Not usually a covered expense.

  • bodega3

    Our power company has messages updated on their website and by phone.  If the situation is not wide spread, you can be away from home and find this out or keep a land line for just this reason.  During our last 7 day power outage for those who lived in town, all land phones were sold out at all stores as cell phone didn’t work in the immediate area.  Seriously, you need to be prepared and not count on anyone but yourself for a couple of days. Think ahead. 

  • scapel

    I thought I killed him, but he got up and ran away

  • cjr001

    And they wonder why people go postal, and why so many people are so pissed off at pretty much any company that provides utilities.

  • JenniferFinger

    Now that you know how the utilities treat customers whom they’ve wronged, can you writer your legislator and work to put rights for customers in the code so they can’t get away with continuous jerking around?

  • LonnieC

    Okay, maybe I’m missing something here.  Couldn’t Chris simply have switched the power back on?  It sounds like the technician simply pulled the main circuit switch.  Why not just turn it back on?  What’s the power company going to do – claim you used power that you’ve paid for?  How about a little “self help” here?

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I have a healthy fear of tinkering with anything that has to do with electricity. This wasn’t a circuit-breaker in my home, it was outside. Our power lines are buried in this neighborhood. 

  • MarkKelling

    In some places I have lived, the power company takes the meter when they disconnect you (the meter pops out like a light bulb from the box it is mounted in when you break the seal) and place a filler into the opening.  Not too easy to get around that.  In others, they pop out the meter and put something in behind it that keeps the connection from being made to the main line and then put the meter back in and seal it.  Also not easy to get around if they come back and find their seal broke and your power on.

    In this case they may have flipped a switch in the box that goes to the underground cables which is in a locked box that is not accessible to the general public.  

    No matter, turning the power back on yourself can lead to hefty fines even if it is to your own property and you pay your bill regularly not to mention the possibility of electrocuting yourself if you don’t know what you are doing.

  • madtad1

    You need to immediately file a complaint with the Florida Public Servicecommission. Include copies of your bills for the last 6 months. You can call them at 1‑800‑342‑3552 or online at http://bit.ly/Og47Pe .

  • Allan Jayne

    The electric company did wrong. Period.

    Seeing that the customer was right there to protest it should have turned the power back on and then investigated the case. Nothing in Florida’s law forbids the company from doing the right thing, that.

    A company should give good customer service without the need to pass a law forcing it to.

    If the customer or someone else misrepresented something the he would be responsible for the consequences which could include false pretenses.

    A few unbillable kilowatt hours once in a blue moon because of a mistake in a work order is not going to kill the electric company or raise hell from all the other customers, who have to pay for them in higher overall rates.

    My gut feeling for today is that a $100. Targe gift card would be adequate. It’s worth writing a snail mail letter to the company, sending a second copy to higher up if the first one doesn’t gain satisfaction.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000351857087 Nicole Miller Landreneau

    I hate dealing with power companies almost as much as I hate dealing with phone companies. At the least, there had better be a reduced rate on Chris’ next statement for the day of missing service. They *should* reimburse for a lost day of work as well. My sad experience: We had no power for two weeks after hurricane Katrina – my next statement was higher than the previous month. I pointed out the error, called and wrote (how can it be higher with no people in the house and no power for two weeks?). The best I got: someone came out and rechecked the meter. Thank you and have a nice day. Bah humbug.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Chris, please consider creating some kind of official follow-up page. I often wonder what happened with one incident or another, but closure seems to be hit or miss. Sometimes, there’s a brief mention in a related article, but more often, as in this case, there’s nothing. I’d have sued the bastards at Progress Energy for at least the cost of all the “spoiled food” in your fridge and freezer. Please tell me you did, too. Until consumers start standing up to jerk companies like PE, nothing will change.