Summer may always be hot in South Florida, but Juana Del Rosario had to spend three weeks of it with no power.
“We have been living without electricity, without AC or hot water [and] we are not cooking,” Juana said.
She first lost her power on June 12. She went outside to see what happened and ran across some FPL workers nearby. She says one of the employees handed her a letter. That’s when she found out she was being investigated for tampering with her home’s meter and was immediately disconnected.
The letter said that before she can get her service restored, she must pay $2,132.10, which includes the unpaid electricity consumption for the last four years plus a tampering penalty of $200 and $540.66 for investigation fees.
Juana insists she did not tamper with the meter. For weeks, she tried to fix what she thought was a mix-up. She filed a police report, a complaint with the Florida Public Service Commission and reached out to several media outlets but was still left in the dark. Then, she contacted NBC 6 Responds and Telemundo 51 Responde.
“I have faith that my voice will be heard in this community that I’m totally innocent,” Juana told us.
After we contacted FPL, the company told us it takes “meter tampering and electricity theft seriously… Tampering with an electric meter and stealing power is considered theft… When we discover a tampered meter, our primary focus is on replacing the meter to stop the electric current diversion and then rebilling the customer whose account benefited from the current division.”
“Why do I have to pay for a crime I didn’t do, I didn’t do it,” Juana said.
FPL told us according to state law they are “not required to determine who the person was that tampered with the meter.”
The same day we contacted FPL, Del Rosario said she heard from the power company directly.
“FPL called me back around 2 p.m. when they say were willing to re-establish the service,” Juana said.
Her new FPL bill shows a $73 balance. The $2,352.10 amount now appears as a payment extension. FPL said this payment extension is a sign that it is “being flexible.” The company also said that this “extends the due date [but does not] relinquish them of payment.”
Juana now has her power back, but she is still expected to pay the remaining balance. While she is still waiting to hear what the Public Service Commission determines, she feels grateful to have her power back.
“I am very happy, thank you so much,” Juana said.
In their letter, FPL said that Juana’s smart meter had a missing seal. Documents from the Public Service Commission said that in February, FPL started using a new tool to detect meter tampering and found a drop in consumption four years ago, which is why they are back billing Juana from February. In the last five years, 308 FPL customers complained to the Public Service Commission about the same problem of meter tampering.
Juana’s case is still being reviewed by the Public Service Commission.