Vectren apologizes for errors on natural gas bills

Vectren will meet with some of its natural gas customers to apologize for an error that led to March bills that were more than $200 higher than a year ago in some cases.

The public is invited to the 6 p.m. May 7 meeting at Columbus City Hall in Columbus, Vectren spokeswoman Natalie Hedde told The Republic of Columbus. Vectren North President Mike Roeder will attend the meeting.

"The intent of the meeting is to have a transparent conversation with those in attendance and show, to the best of our ability, what happened … and offer them a face-to-face apology," Hedde said.

The problem primarily resulted from a contracted meter reader who reported erroneously low readings on customer bills for up to three months, Hedde said. That person was responsible for reading 7,700 meters in the Columbus Municipal District. Colder-than-normal temperatures in February also contributed to higher heating bills, the company has said.

Vectren has 21,000 residential customers in the Columbus area. Vectren North serves much of central Indiana.

At least 450 customers received bills that varied $200 or more year to year, and that number will grow because the billing cycle is not yet complete and some bills still are being mailed, Hedde said.

Some customers already have taken action against Vectren. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has received 71 complaints regarding Vectren from customers in Bartholomew County, said Natalie Derrickson, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Vectren is working with affected customers individually and allowing them to spread out payments up to six months in some cases, Hedde said.

One affected customer, Stephen Abedian, said he doesn't believe Vectren is being sincere.

"This is good will, but driven by damage control. Enough people complained. I'm sure some people said they wouldn't pay," Abedian said.

Jerri Chalfant said she intends to attend the meeting with her husband. They saw their gas bill rise from about $60 in January and February to more than $200 in March. The couple told Vectren that they spent the winter in another state and kept the thermostat at 60 degrees for two months.

"I would just like to go and hear the apology, if nothing else," Jerri Chalfant said.

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