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Million-Dollar Mistake: Burlington Electric Over-Billed City, UVM For Years

Burlington Electric Department announced today that officials have recently discovered billing issues dating back as far as 2003 that led to the over-billing of two of the utility’s largest customers: The City of Burlington and the University of Vermont. Another issue officials discovered led to under-billing for the ECHO Center on the Lake Champlain waterfront. 

The billing issue at the city of Burlington, which went back to 2008, was discovered when the city’s bills for street lights went up despite a program to replace old street lights with energy efficient LED lights.

Investigation showed that Burlington Electric was billing the city as if both the new LED bulbs were in place in addition to the old, less-efficient bulbs.

“In effect, BED has been double billing the city for the replacement street lights,” said BED interim General Manager Neale Lunderville in a memo to the city.

The error led Burlington Electric to over-bill the city by $1,779,201 since 2006, according to the memo. 

A second issue with the UVM Rubenstein Lab at the university’s environmental sciences school caused Burlington Electric to bill the ECHO Center at only half of its actual usage at a site rented from the University of Vermont. The utility billed UVM – its largest customer – for the other half of ECHO’s usage. 

BED repaid UVM for the over-billed amount and is “working with the ECHO Center to resolve the under-billing and help them move forward.”

Burlington Electric announced plans Friday to further review its billing processes, especially for customers with non-traditional billing arrangements.

Utility officials say they haven’t yet decided whether to seek repayment from ECHO Center.

“It’s a non-profit,” said BED spokeswoman Mary Sullivan, adding that “this was our billing error.” She said the initial attention was focused on fixing the problem, and work with ECHO Center is ongoing.

Sullivan said Burlington Electric is working with ECHO Center to help the non-profit reduce its energy costs, since its power bill will double now that the error has been resolved.

All repayments from Burlington Electric are coming from the utility's cash reserves and won't come out of customer rate payments, a move applauded by the Vermont Public Service Department, which advocates for rate-payers on utility issues.

"While no one ever likes discovering news such as we have from Burlington Electric Department, we appreciate their diligent work to identify and rectify the billing errors in a way that is appropriate and protective of ratepayers," said DPS Commissioner Chris Recchia in a statement.

Update: An earlier version of this story misquoted Recchia. He said "ratepayers," not "taxpayers."