Power surges leave Alexandria residents with $57K in damage – NBC4 Washington

Dozens of Alexandria residents say two power surges left them with damaged appliances and steep repair bills — but it was the response from the power company that really sparked outrage, because Dominion Energy says it’s not liable.

Neighbors in this Alexandria, Virginia, community are hoping there’s power in numbers as they band together to take on their power company in their fight for accountability.

“The night that it happened, the power went out, but then it came back on and then went off, and came back on again, and it was popping all over the house,” said resident Dana Goward.

Dominion Energy said equipment failure caused two power surges, right before Christmas.

Losing their power was temporary, but it was the surges that followed when the lights came back on that caused appliances to go haywire.

“Our air conditioning unit, the compressor blew,” said resident Tina Takish. “The air conditioner is toast.”

Takish said it will cost $7,000 to replace the air conditioning unit.

Resident Lisa Harter said the transformer of her HVAC system was damaged, and she had to pay $620 to have a thermostat replaced.”

Goward also had some damage: “Our electric charger to our electric vehicle, and that was more than $500,” she said.

Connie Delorme, said an outlet that was attached to a surge protector was destroyed.

Mary Rowland lost couple of surge protectors and has black smoke marks on her power box and on her cable box.

Marcia Gordon said, “I heard a bang. It cost me over $4,000 to get a new breaker box.”

These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. The neighbors sent NBC4 Responds a spreadsheet of 46 homeowners who have damages totaling more than $57,000.

Dominion Energy says it investigated the outage and subsequent surge and found an “unanticipated equipment failure” on their end. The homeowners filed claims with the power company, trying to get paid for the damages, but the company denied them.

When News4 asked Dominion Energy why, the company responded: “Unanticipated equipment failures … much like lightning strikes, are beyond the reasonable control of the company and fall to the property owner or their insurance company to fix.”

You can guess this explanation didn’t go over well with the homeowners.

“I mean, there needs to be some accountability,” one said.

Another said: “It seems to me, if it was their faulty equipment, they should be responsible for damage.”

However, when people sign up for utility service, they sign a contract that’s loaded with all types of terms and conditions, and those contracts often can be hundreds of pages long. If you were to read through Dominion Energy’s terms and conditions, settle in for a bit: It totals 366 pages.

“Not all of it is super legible to the average person,” said Kajsa Foskey of the Virginia Poverty Law Center, which advocates on behalf of utility customers.

“So you might be signing something that says, if this particular thing happens, the utility is not liable for the outcomes. They’re not responsible for damages or paying for it,” Foskey said. “And sometimes, folks don’t understand that that’s what they’re signing up for.”

And if you don’t agree with the terms of the utility company, unfortunately, the way the system is set up, she says, you’re stuck with them.

“If you live in a particular service area, your provider is going to be whoever has the contract with that particular area to provide the service,” Foskey said. “I mean, realistically your options are: Move.”

The homeowners also filed complaints with the State Corporation Commission, which regulates utility companies in Virginia. But Lisa Hartley and Marcia Gordon said that was a dead end, too.

The homeowners shared emails from the commission that said it “does not adjudicate damage claims. Damage claims need to be filed directly with the utility company” or their insurance company, or “filed through your local civil court.”

When News4 asked the commission what complaints would fall under their jurisdiction, they told us issues including billing, metering and bad customer service.

“I don’t know how anyone could listen to all of us and everything that we’ve just thrown out there and just not assume liability?” resident Lisa Harter said. “That’s not, that doesn’t make sense to me.”

Customers do have a right to request the commission to initiate a formal investigation, which is a public process in which the utility company will need to issue a response. The homeowners said they’re going to try this next and will let us know the outcome.

Read More:Power surges leave Alexandria residents with $57K in damage – NBC4 Washington

2024-02-22 03:41:29

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