City employee finds $100,000 PSE billing error

A city maintenance employee recently discovered some errant double billing by Puget Sound Energy for street lighting in the Town Center. As a result, PSE refunded the city $108,763 for six years of service.

Bill Sansbury, the city’s Right of Way manager, worked with an account manager from IntoLight, a subsidiary of PSE, to determine how and why the billing mishap occurred. Apparently, PSE-operated street lights were removed and replaced with city-owned lights unbeknownst to the utility company.

“I was just curious,” Sansbury said. “I was the new manager and I was doing an inventory audit of all our electrical accounts. I was just curious and began digging.”

Sansbury said he discovered some street lights were still being charged by the meter and per street light. He checked with IntoLight and learned somebody had forgotten to stop the billing.

“It just slipped their minds,” Sansbury said. “They were very apologetic.”

In an e-mail sent to Sansbury regarding the double billing, Jim Kennedy of IntoLight stated that a miscommunication between the city and utility led to the errant bills.

“No one at the city told PSE of the change,” Kennedy wrote in the e-mail. “Since we were never at any of the lights to make repairs, we didn’t know they had been removed.”

There were 248 city-owned street lights in the Town Center that were billed under a flat rate tariff such that PSE supplied energy at a rate based on lamp wattage.

“New downtown-area lights, installed in 1995, are city owned and maintained, metered at two locations and maintained by electrical contractors,” Kennedy explained. “We had been billing for the flat-rate lights that weren’t there any longer and billing for the meters that served the new lights PSE didn’t maintain.”

The refund only goes back six years, although the city began installing its new lights in 1995. Sansbury said the city was probably billed beyond the six years but state tariffs require PSE to refund accounts over-billed only up to six years. Sansbury was personally congratulated by city manager Rich Conrad and when the announcement was made to City Council members, they expressed their gratitude for Sansbury’s work as well.

PSE to pay $417,000 fine to EPA for spill

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has signed a “Stipulated Order of Settlement” with Puget Sound Energy (PSE). Central to the settlement is PSE’s agreement to pay a $471,900 EPA penalty, which will resolve the agency’s federal Clean Water Act claims against the Bellevue-based energy company.

According to court papers, the government alleged that the violation occurred on Nov. 3, 2006, when an above-ground tank at the Crystal Mountain ski area’s emergency generator overflowed and discharged approximately 18,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

Ecology and EPA concluded that the spill occurred after an electrical malfunction. As a result, a large portion of the 18,000-gallon spill eventually entered nearby Silver Creek (a tributary of the White River) and contaminated the adjoining shoreline.

Silver Creek is a spawning and rearing habitat for Chinook, pink, chum and Coho salmon, as well as rainbow, steelhead and cutthroat trout. Both Silver Creek Basin and the White River Watershed are designated drinking water sources. As a precautionary measure, PSE provided bottled drinking water to downstream residents until the drinking water could be confirmed as safe for consumption.

PSE incurred over $15 million in spill response cleanup costs and paid for Crystal Mountain Generating Station repairs to minimize the possibility of a similar spill in the future.

Mike Bussell, director of EPA’s office of Enforcement & Compliance, said PSE made appropriate improvements and worked cooperatively to ensure that an incident like this does not happen again.

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