Several thousand Vectren electricity customers in southwestern Indiana are facing big bills after the company underestimated what they owed over the summer.
The Evansville-based company said mistakes in calculating estimated electricity use caused about 7,000 customers to be undercharged for two to four months.
Some of those bills are panicking customers, with resident Angela Catille telling the Evansville Courier & Press she cried all morning after opening her bill.
"This month I have a $960 bill. It's normally about a $300 bill," she said. "I have four kids. We're going to have to cut way back. There will be nothing extra, I just have to pay this bill."
During the summer months, Vectren billed Catille about $170 per month.
"I just thought, for once in my life, we had kept everything down," Catille said.
Vectren spokeswoman Natalie Hedde said it is offering no-interest payment plans for customers whose bills were underestimated.
The utility said a former meter reading contractor wasn't completing some routes over the summer, contributing to more estimated bills.
"We were very transparent in telling the customers that it was a mistake," Hedde said. "We understand that customers are frustrated by that."
Regardless of how the errors happened, the customers are responsible for the full bills, said Natalie Derrickson, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.
"At this point, if a customer feels like their bill was estimated and they have larger bills than they were expecting, their first step should be to contact Vectren," she said. "If the customer feels like the issue is not resolved, they should contact us."
Customer Amanda Marie said her electric bill went from about $170 to $954 and that she didn't realize the bills were low because she had moved to a new house only four months ago.
"They hadn't read the meter since I moved in," Marie said. "I don't know why, for that many months in a row, the bill was estimated. I cried a whole lot. I don't know what I'm going to do."
Vectren has 142,000 electric customers and 111,000 gas customers in southwest Indiana, and 570,000 natural gas customers in the central part of the state. It has another 314,000 gas customers in west-central Ohio.