Friday, January 20, 2017

Explaining High Customer Bills

The city of Richmond Department of Public Utilities (DPU) receives a fair share of customer calls concerning high utility bills.  Recently, there was one such example in the media from a customer contending that they were overcharged.  More often than not, there is more to the story than what the media reports when their community reporters investigate.  The following is an explanation of how a customer bill can be impacted when it is not paid on time and the customer does not contact our Customer Care center for assistance early:
It is very easy for utility bills to snowball. When balances are left or payments are skipped, not only is that payment still due, but there are late fees that are assessed. If the same payment amount is made every month, regardless of whether its winter and gas usage is likely higher, in just a few months, the bill will accumulate enough of an unpaid balance to trigger a disconnection warning.
Say you move to a new residence.  Unpaid bills from old accounts in your name follow you.  So your first bill at a new address may be a surprise to you, but it shouldn’t be, because you are still owe for utilities used by you at a former address. The bill doesn’t stay with the address. It travels with the account holder.

In order to open a residential utility account in the city of Richmond, a customer or applicant may be required to pay a security deposit.  This is if they have a history of paying utility bills late.  The security deposit is $100 for water service and $200 for gas service.  These charges will appear on the first utility bill.    There is also a service establishment fee of $35 each for gas and for water.  This fees covers the administrative cost of establishing the account.  These charges will also appear on the first utility bill.  Understandably, it may seem like a lot to pay on the first bill and the temptation may be to let it roll over to future bills.  But, its important to remember that late fees will then be added on, and eventually the balance will snowball into an amount triggering a disconnection notice.   
Water leaks can be devastating to a customer’s utility bill total, and also hard to spot if there is a large unpaid balance being carried over from month to month.  This can happen when only partial payments or no payments are made on the account. If a spike in your water charges is seen and you know it is definitely not a past due amount – look at individual lines on your bill, not just the bottom line.  Then contact DPU Customer Care immediately to discuss the increase in your water consumption.  If necessary, DPU will perform a site inspection to see what may be causing the increased water consumption.  If it is found that the leak is on the city side of the meter, your bill will be adjusted 100 percent for the excess water and wastewater charges.

We try our best to come to a resolution with all of our customers, but there is not much we can do if a customer’s bill-paying strategy is to skip payments or make partial payments until the bill becomes excessively high. There are equal monthly payment plans available to deal with seasonal spikes in heating bills to make your monthly payment uniform year-round.
And when you call us, please stay calm and help us work with you. Our Customer Care representatives work with compassion and empathy, but if customers become angry to the point of shouting or using inappropriate language or making threats, Customer Care representatives have the right to disconnect the call. After all, we are here to help you.
The City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities (DPU) is a premier provider of utility service.  DPU provides natural gas, water, wastewater and storm water utility services to more than 500,000 residential and commercial customers in the metropolitan region.  In addition, DPU operates an electric street lighting utility, which maintains 38,000 streetlights throughout the City.  For more information, call DPU’s Customer Care Center at (804) 646-7000 or visit the Web site at


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why Your Water Bill May Be Higher Than Usual

Over the last few weeks, the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has received a number of customer calls concerning unusually high water bills. A thorough investigation of customer accounts by the DPU Customer Care team found that most of the increases were caused by a combination of watering from irrigation systems combined with the end of DPU’s summer sewer discount period. 

Here’s how it works:  Normally, wastewater charges are based on the volume of water a customer uses. That's why you will see on your bill the amount of CCF for wastewater is often the same as the amount of CCF for water.  However, for a residential customer during the months of March through November, DPU bases the amount of wastewater CCF on either the customer’s average monthly wastewater volume for the months of December through February, or the actual amount of wastewater CCF for the billing period, whichever is less.  DPU refers to this as the summer sewer discount.

DPU provides this discount because many customers during the months of March through November use water for activities beyond daily personal needs. Some of these activities include, but are not limited to, lawn and garden irrigation, car washing, swimming pool maintenance, and more. The water used during these activities does not make its way into the sewer system for treatment at DPU’s wastewater treatment plant, so DPU’s summer sewer discount eases the wastewater charge for customers during these months when water consumption from such activities is found to be the highest.

As a result, customers who irrigate far into November, and who have a meter reading period on their December bill which includes water consumed for irrigation, have seen a significant jump in the wastewater portion of their water bill.  This is because the wastewater charge for the months of December through February is based upon actual water volume consumed.  Many customers probably never noticed the jump before because they did not continue to irrigate their lawns and gardens late into the season when the summer sewer discount is no longer in effect.

If a customer experiences an increase in his or her wastewater volume during December as a result of activities such as lawn and garden irrigation, the customer may contact DPU’s Customer Care Center at 646-7000 to request an adjustment to their wastewater charge.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Gas Meter Snow Safety Tips

Did you know accumulated snow and ice can damage natural gas meters and pipes?
Using a broom to keep gas service equipment clear during the winter can help ensure safe use of natural gas. 

Chimneys and vents for gas appliances should also be cleared following a major snow or ice storm to enable proper venting and prevent equipment malfunction and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Make sure to locate your vents before the first storm 
of the season.

Here are some more winter natural gas safety tips:
  • Remove snow and ice from the meter or appliance vent pipe carefully with a broom or by hand. Do not use a shovel because it can damage the meter.
  • Do not shovel snow up against the meter or vent pipe.
  • Remove icicles from overhead eaves and gutters to assure dripping water does not splash and freeze on the meter or vent pipes.
  • Do not kick your gas meter to break or clear ice.
  • Clear a path to the meter so that Public Utilities employees or emergency responders can access it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Sneak Peek at New Utility Bill Design

1. Account information -- Account number, bill date, next date your meter will be read, next bill date
2. Payment due date - Your bill is due on or before due date
3. Bill Summary - Previous balance, payments received, balance forward, current charges, total charges due
4. Stormwater Details - Current stormwater charges. More details on back of bill.
5. Water/Wastewater Details - Current water and wastewater charges. More details on back of bill.
6. Water Historical Usage -- Water usage from last year, last month, current usage and number of days in billing period
7. Gas Details -- Current gas charges. More details on back.
8. Gas Historical Usage -- Gas usage from last year, last month, current usage and number of days in billing period.
9. Remittance Stub -- Part you detach and mail back with your payment.

Look for a flyer in your January utility bill with all this information and more.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Customer Photos

Customer Lauren Figg shows her recycling station, which "makes taking the recycling out on collection day so easy!"

Friday, December 2, 2016

Storm Drain Art Contest Wins Award

The City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities has received the 2017 National Environmental Achievement Award from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies.The award will be formally presented at their winter conference in February.

The RVAH20 Storm Drain Art Contest was entered in the Public Information and Education:E-Media category. 

The project goal was to obtain a Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit by 2018, making Richmond one of the first cities in the U.S. to do so.

DPU is mandated to reach 20 percent of Richmond residents with a stormwater/water quality message: address pollution, how the public is related to area waterways, and how individual actions impact overall water health.

So Richmond DPU developed the first annual Storm Drain Art Project, "It All Drains to the James." Richmond-area artists would apply to paint a storm drain design that conveyed how important it is to keep our river – and our drinking water – clean.

The goal was to educate the public that pollutants that go into storm drains impact Richmond waterways – the very places that are so beloved for community swimming, fishing and water sports.  It’s why all five of the storm drains selected for this project carry stormwater directly into the James River – and into our water supply.

When the artists were selected and the art work completed, fans voted for a favorite design online. The artist with the most votes received the RVA Choice Award, along with special recognition.

Stroll down Tredegar Street and see for yourself how art can help communicate that what goes into these drains flows directly into the James.

Fan Favorite

Friday, November 18, 2016

City Enters Bond Market in Public Utility Revenue and Refunding Bonds

The City of Richmond successfully sold $502 million in Public Utility Revenue and Refunding Bonds of which $169 million was for new money projects and $333 million was to refund existing debt service for interest rate savings.

The cost of funds for the City’s New Money Projects was approximately 3.47 percent, which is near the lowest cost of funds in several decades. In addition, the City took advantage of the historic low interest rate environment to refund two outstanding bond issues, which will result in the City reducing its existing debt service by roughly $100 million over the next 24 years.

The Bonds were highly rated by all three national credit rating agencies: Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch (Aa2, AA, AA respectively).

Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Raymond James and Siebert Cisneros Shank served as underwriters on the financing. Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Raymond James have offices in Richmond. Siebert Cisneros Shank is based out of New York and is the nation’s largest minority owned bond underwriting firm.

David Rose, senior vice president and manager of Public Finance at Davenport & Company LLC, the City’s financial advisor, said “As best we can determine, the level of debt service savings is unprecedented for a Virginia local government.”

The City’s director of Public Utilities, Bob Steidel, said, “The City’s utility system has experienced consistent credit rating upgrades over the past several years. As a result, the level of savings has been augmented because our credit worthiness has increased.”