Electric Company Reimburses Woman $10,500 After Billing Her For Powering Nearby Streetlights For 25 Years

If you’ve ever wondered how much it might cost you to power the streetlights that go on every night near your home for say, 25 years, wonder no longer. One woman found out she’d been over-charged on her electric bill for a quarter century because the power company had her paying for the electricity used for nearby streetlights. She’s just gotten $10,500 back in her pocket.

Connecticut Light & Power paid up after it agreed that yeah, it had been adding those lights onto her bill, but claimed it was only because a previous owner of the house had agreed to take on that charge on purpose. Why anyone would ever voluntarily pay for something that usually isn’t a homeowner’s responsibility, we do not understand.

The New Haven Register says the woman discovered the error while trying to sell her house. A buyer was interested, and asked about how much she paid in utility charges. She took a closer look, and saw line items for two sodium vapor streetlights. She called up the power company, which told her about the previous owner’s apparent desire to overpay the electric bill

At first, the company just took the charges off her bill but weren’t about to pony up the cash she’d been charged for all those years. Until she called the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel to fight it. High five for sticking it to the man!

“I called CL&P, wrote letters, did it all, but they were unresponsive to any kind of reimbursement,” she said. “I really thought I was going to have to sue CL&P.”

The CL&P says now it’s very sorry, and has admitted it was in the wrong in the whole ordeal.

“We have reimbursed her in the amount that she was incorrectly billed plus interest and will be using this case as a learning experience to identify process and customer service improvements to be sure this doesn’t happen again in the future,” said a CL&P spokesman.

She received a check for $10,491.21, about $35 per month of over-billing, even though CL&P says it was really closer to $5,800 or $19 a month. Go ahead and check your electric bill right about now, just in case some extra streetlight cash is hiding in there. You never know.

Kevin Hunt: CL&P Pays Cheshire Woman Billed 25 Years For Street Lights $10,000 [Hartford Courant]
CL&P overcharges woman $10G over 25 years for street lights [New Haven Register]

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  1. AtlantaCPA says:

    There are no ‘line items’ on my electric bill. I’m amazed that CL&P put it on her bill so plainly, I feel like most folks would never even know that they’re being overcharged.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      The thing is, the line item was probably entered solely because normally there are NO line items for residents. Meaning, this situation was so unique they had to add the meter of the streetlights on a separate line.

      You have no line item on your bill because it’s the power for one, single meter.

    • Raanne says:

      Usually streetlights have to be a line item because they have no meter. They are just an additional charge that is supposed to cover cost of electricity plus maintenance. It is very common for businesses and schools to pay for street lights on their bill. I’m not sure why a home owner would though, unless the original owner signed on to pay for it after he requested it be put in.

    • bbb111 says:

      “There are no ‘line items’ on my electric bill. I’m amazed that CL&P put it on her bill so plainly,”

      If you add a streetlight to your bill it is an extra line item.

      I’m not being sarcastic – I discovered one on a family property I was helping with. The owner had requested that the streetlight be installed to cover a dark area at the corner of a private road and a public one. There were already streetlights on the public road at the proper spacing to meet the codes, so this one was billed as a private one to the requester.

      In the featured case, these streetlights were entered as private ones by mistake (or someone at the property had requested them in the distant past and since code didn’t require them, they were billed to the requester. [If the city requests it, the city pays; if an individual requests it, the individual pays.])

    • dgking80 says:

      You still have to find it a bit humorous that this person paid her electric bill for 25 years without.. ya know.. looking at her electric bill

  2. Banished to the Corner says:

    What sort of drugs was this person taking, not reviewing her bill for 25+ years!

    • TasteyCat says:

      She was also probably on autopay and not noticing the money disappear from her checking account each month.

  3. Blueskylaw says:

    I’m surprised they didn’t pull a stunt like Bank of America does and claim that she should have caught it sooner and they can only refund her 3 months worth of overbilling. Though if you underpay Bank of America by a dime, five years from now that dime will turn into $5,000 after all the interest, penalties, fees, charges, opportunity costs, time value of money, etc.

  4. PBallRaven says:

    That $35 a month you are figuring there includes the interest. I’m wondering if they calculated it correctly (Going back and finding the interest rate for each month, and compounding it each month the way it should be). Seems like it should be more.

    • Speedstr says:

      I glad I’m not the only one who thinks she got shorted on the re-inbursement.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        She also apparently never looked at her electric bill for 25 years. I think anything she lost due to interest was her own doing.

    • rugman11 says:

      It looks like the interest rate was about 4.5%. Not great, but not unreasonable.

      • AtlantaCPA says:

        I’m getting close to you – 4.37% (APR). I’m assuming the $5800 is the exact amt spread evenly over 300 months, with the interest compounding monthly. I’m too lazy/busy right now to use some market rate for each month individually but it could be done.

        Average inflation rate from 1987 to 2011 was 2.93%, but there were periods when inflation was higher than 4.37% (late 80s, early 90’s, and a few months in 2008). So all in all I’d say they are giving her a mediocre rate. It would probably stand up in court as reasonable but just barely.

        • AtlantaCPA says:

          I know no one is interested but me, but I refined my calc a bit:
          Let’s also assume that the rate she paid for the electricity increased over time roughly with inflation. So it’s not $19.33 every month, it’s more like $9.71 back in 1987 and $28.96 at the end of 2011 (I just assumed Jan 1987 to Dec 2011 as the 25 years). Anyway, with that change the interest rate they are giving her is more like 5.1% which I’d say is fair.

        • PBallRaven says:

          If you’re using goverment inflation figures, remember that they do not count energy or food inflation into those calculations. Real inflation rate is higher than that.

    • Jawaka says:

      lol what’s the going interest rate on a saving’s account? Like .300%

      • AtlantaCPA says:

        Good point, but it depends on if you look at this as a savings rate (customer perspective) or a penalty rate (utility perspective). Plus saving’s accounts are short term instruments. Money tied up for 25 years should be invested in something else, so you could say if she’d had the money all that time she would have put it in her 401k or something.

  5. bikeoid says:

    CL&P is sorry, but is now out the money for streetlights, having lighted them for free. Will they now collect this from the city?

  6. GMFish says:

    Why anyone would ever voluntarily pay for something that usually isn’t a homeowner’s responsibility, we do not understand.

    It doesn’t seem completely unreasonable to me. Maybe the previous owner really wanted the lights out in front of his property for security purpose. So he worked out a deal with the power company that if they installed them he’d pay for the electricity.

    • GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

      That’s what I’m thinking. Or they were mugged earlier in their life and always wanted to make sure their piece of the street was safe, like those schools that make every student learn how to swim.

    • Platypi {Redacted} says:

      This is something our power company has offered to us. They will install a big streetlight for your property, but you pay the monthly cost to light the thing. Our unincorporated area is pretty dark at night, but it is pretty expensive to light that thing, so I have avoided it thusfar.

    • StarKillerX says:

      Yeah, that was my thought exactly as I know a few people who have done the exact same thing.

    • Shinzakura says:

      I can confirm that. In my neighborhood, there are no set streetlights. The previous owner of the neighbor’s house, however, agreed to pay for a streetlight, as it illuminated the area around his house (as well as the house I’d eventually buy and a few others) for safety’s sake. When the current owners moved in, they happily continued the agreement (which I’m glad they did, since it makes my life easier.)

  7. kathygnome says:

    “Why anyone would ever voluntarily pay for something that usually isn’t a homeowner’s responsibility, we do not understand.”

    A lot of towns and cities are turning off streetlights because they just can’t afford them and occasionally a neighborhood association or individual will offer to pay the bill instead.

    • PBallRaven says:

      I’d prefer if they did shut the damn things off. They waste an incredible amount of energy with fixtures that let a large percentage of the light go up into the sky causing light polution. They also upset the nocturnal cycles of plants and do other damage.

      • polishhillbilly says:

        I second your thoughts. The lights also give the thief a helping hand making it possible for him to see.

  8. Hoss says:

    How soon after this did they shut off the streetlights?

  9. fizxman says:

    She got 2.5% in interest a year for 25 years. I don’t know where they got that number but I think that’s low consider what interest rates were in the 80’s.

    • AtlantaCPA says:

      More like 4 or 5% depending on different assumptions (see thread above). How did you come up with the 2.5%?

  10. ChuckECheese says:

    The previous owner of my childhood home in a rural area had a street light installed on the property line between their and the neighbor’s property because of crime. The then-owner, and later my parents, paid the electric bill for the light until the area was incorporated into a town, at which point the town began paying for the street light. The light was installed sometime around 1969-1971.

  11. Pagan wants a +1 button says:

    My neighborhood wanted streetlights installed along the area between back yards on different blocks. The city agreed to use grant money to buy and install the lights, but the homeowners of the properties where the lights are located had to agree to pay the power bills. It’s not that uncommon, apparently.

  12. TennesseeJeff says:

    Well, where I grew up, dusk-to-dawn lights were optional for people who live in the country and at a fixed rate (usually about $9.00/mo). Perhaps the original homeowner requested mutiple of these and CL&P never either turned them off or got the current homeowner to agree. Here is the ‘about’ page from the electric company regarding the dusk-to-dawn lights: https://www.vectrenenergy.com/web/eenablement/learn_about/services/dusk_to_dawn_i.jsp

  13. icerabbit says:

    In the OP’s case, I have to say that she must never have looked at her electric bill. I suspect a previous owner reached an agreement with the power company to have lights placed on nearby electric poles at his expense and their consumption placed on his bill.

    It is not uncommon to have an electric pole on your property or between properties, a few hundred feet back from the street to carry the line to the house. Many times this pole has a streetlight on them for convenience/security. We have such a pole in our back yard on the property line.

    When we had a new neighbor move in next door, he approached me about paying for that light (which clearly shines onto both properties along the lot line). I forgot what the charge was, but the previous owner had been billed for it and according to the power company it now now it was his responsibility. I told him I wasn’t aware of the charge for the light, that I didn’t need the light in that unused part of the back yard and actually would prefer the light & pole not to be there.

    So, the OP must never have looked at her bill – for 25 years! – and I’m really surprised the power company agreed to refund all those years; even after lawyers got involved.

    • AtlantaCPA says:

      My bedroom windows face the back of my neighbor’s house, and he has two streetlight-quality lights on his back porch for some reason. I use blinds and shades so it’s not a huge deal but why do people want that much light at night? I know people say ‘for security’ but wouldn’t a regular light bulb be enough for that (and maybe put it on a motion sensor)?

      • icerabbit says:

        I have no idea why some properties are lit up like a football stadium.

        I’m all for some ambiance and some elegant low intensity landscape lighting for paths, trees, fountains, … and utility lighting as and where needed.

        I completely agree with putting a few well placed motion activated flood lights around a property over continuous lighting.

  14. Not Given says:

    We had one put in behind our house when DH worked for the local utility, they paid it because it was there for the security of their truck. After he left they turned it off but one of the next door neighbors that lived here for a while had it turned on and paid it because they wanted the security for themselves. When we lived out in the country we had one in the backyard, but it was billed separately. That’s probably what happened, the former occupant had them put in for security.

  15. prismatist says:

    This is why you are supposed to actually READ the bills you get.

    • Jawaka says:

      What? But that would take at least a minute of my time and involve taking some personal responsibility. You’re at the wrong website.

  16. sorta savvy consumer says:

    My great grandfather had a street light right outside his house that his children paid for years. It would not have been operational otherwise. I believe they may have even requested it be installed.

    So for the security of the light, they paid for it. It wasn’t much and it gave everyone some peace of mind.

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      I simply moved into a house which already had a streetlight in front of it. And no, I’m not being charged for its electricity unless it was included within the $0.30 monthly electricity charge back when I shut off all power to the house excepting a CFL porch light on the side door.. Paid far more for the monthly service fee of $11.83 than actual usage during the time the house was unoccupied.

  17. dush says:

    I sure hope she doesn’t have to pay taxes on that.

  18. PragmaticGuy says:

    So now that she’s not paying for these lights who is? Or were they turned off. I’ll bet the town she lived in got billed as well since they pay a flat rate for their usage so the company really didn’t lose anything by refunding her dough.

  19. bben says:

    When I purchased my home 2 years ago, there was a ‘security’ light on a pole in the front yard. However, the power line for the light did not come from my house, but from a separate transformer on the other side of the yard. After going to the light, the power line continued to a meter on the far side of the Garage/workshop NOT connected top my home power. When I had the power changed over, I specified that I did not want the security light as I intended to install motion controlled flood lights on the property – No problem, it would be removed from my account – except the power company had no record of a light there. or of the serial number from the meter on the workshop that had their name on it. I asked to have the light removed. 2 years later it is still there, and I have not been billed for it. (typical cost for that type of light is about $8 a month) My guess is it is cheaper for the utility to ‘forget’ about that light than to send a crew out to remove it.