News 13 Investigates: Some Duke customers feel left in the dark about smart meters

Duke Energy tells News 13 there is a protocol for the roll out, that includes sending customers several notices, among them, postcards and door hangers, but when News 13 got out in to these neighborhoods getting these meters, here's what we found. (Photo Credit: WLOS Staff)

Left in the dark -- That's how some Duke Energy customers feel after their new smart meter was installed without notice.

News 13 has been looking into the process to inform customers and whether they're getting a chance to ask questions or opt out of the new meters.

Duke Energy tells News 13 there is a protocol for the roll out, which includes sending customers several notices, like postcards and door hangers. But when News 13 went out into the neighborhoods getting the new meters, several residents said they didn't receive any notice.

'We didn't get one'

It was a coincidence that Bruce Smith was outside in a family member's driveway when an unexpected visitor arrived.

“He pulled his truck up in the driveway, very nice,” Smith recalled.

Smith was packing for a hunting trip.

“I went over to talk to him and he just said, ‘I'm here to change out your outside power meter',” Smith said.

Before that technician gets to work, Duke Energy's Jeff Brooks says Smith and every residential and commercial customer should get a post card, notifying them that a technician will arrive in the next three to five weeks.

“They're designed to give customers a heads up that they're coming to their neighborhood to do that work,” Brooks said.

It also directs customers where to ask questions. According to Brooks, it's the contractor, Southern Cross, who's sending out the cards.

The problem News 13 uncovered from customers is some claim they didn’t receive a postcard.

“We didn't get one. I just checked with my wife, we did not get one of them," Smith said.

Tammy Plemmons, who lives nearly five miles from Smith, claimed she wasn't notified either.

“About 8, 8:30 in the morning, we were still sleeping. All of a sudden, the power is off, the fans are off, the dog goes ballistic trying to get out the door, and he was pulling the meter off the back of the house,” Plemmons recalled.

Had Plemmons received a card, she may have been able to ask the questions she had before her meter was connected.

“Internet signals or cell signals going out when the power goes out, bad weather and different things and how is that going to affect the meters when everything disappears. No signals, no anything?” Plemmons said.

News 13 checked nearby neighbors. About half of the homes we reached in Patterson Farms got a postcard, the other half claimed they didn't. News 13 crews even had to break it to one homeowner the new meter had already been installed. He had no idea.

According to Duke, customers should know their meter's been replaced.

“A door hanger once its installed, and then they are given additional information once the benefits of that meter are available to them,” Brooks said.

At Bruce Smith's own home, across from his family member’s place, he didn’t receive a door hanger despite a new smart meter installed and the subcontractor nearby.

Duke sent News 13 an example of what customers should get. But as the technician worked, News 13 didn’t see him leaving notices on anyone’s home. News 13 asked Duke about its subcontractor Southern Cross and the process to vet them to do the work.

“The companies that work with Duke Energy go through an extensive vetting process to make sure that they're capable of delivering the level of service that we expect, and we work closely with them to make sure that that level of service are maintained,” Brooks said.

Toll-free number

Even those who got a postcard may not know their options. The card just says for questions call a toll-free number between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. News 13 called the number, and after getting voicemail a couple of times, we reached an operator at around 11:30 a.m. who explained how we could opt out.

“You can just provide me with your address and you can refuse the meter,” the operator said.

Then News 13 came across another problem. Although calls should be taken through 8 p.m., when the station called after 4:30 p.m., we received a message that said, “Our offices are closed at the moment. Please call back tomorrow."

News 13 brought up the issues with the phone line to Duke Energy representatives.

“That's unfortunate that you had that experience. That number is supposed to be staffed. We're going to look into that today and make sure that we can get that resolved as quickly as possible,” Brooks said.

News 13 followed up the next week, days later. Monday through Wednesday, when we called after 4:30 p.m., we ran into the same problem. The same message of, “Our offices are closed at the moment, please call back tomorrow.”

By Thursday, News 13 was able to reach someone, an operator who, again, was willing to answer our questions. On Friday, News 13 got a different voicemail message, one that just asked us to leave a message.

According to Duke Energy, the contractor's records show postcards were sent to all of the customers News 13 spoke with. The contractor is still looking into the negative experiences that were uncovered with the call center.

“We apologize, certainly, if customers have not seen that post card or are not aware that it’s come, and that's certainly our goal to be as transparent as possible,” Brooks said.

That number if you want to ask questions is 1-800-941-1398.

It is also the number to call to opt out for Duke Carolina customers. If you're a Duke Energy Progress customer, the opt out hasn't been approved by the state, but you can delay installation by calling the number.

Here’s additional information for customers wanting to opt out, including what it will cost you.

Here’s another customer’s encounter and what Duke Energy had to say about her experience.

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