ACTION NEWS INVESTIGATES: Shocking electricity bills cause surge of anger in senior community

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- "The wool is being pulled over our eyes, and we wonder if it's because we're seniors," said Laura Soravilla, who lives in The Gates at Figarden in Northwest Fresno.

The costs doubled or tripled for most everybody in the complex, and they can't get any explanation.

With numbers counting backward on the SmartMeter outside his home, Ruben Ruiz thought the newly activated solar panels on the roofs of his senior living community would start knocking a few bucks off his utility bill.

So when the cost jumped from about $100 to $375, it almost broke the bank.

"It kind of puts a pretty good ding in the account," Ruiz said. "That's just one less thing I'll be able to do that month."

Several people in the complex told Action News it happened to them too.

But the bills themselves aren't much help. They list the cost of electricity for each unit, but a close look at the pages labeled "Electricity Detail" doesn't reveal much detail.

"They're kind of blank," Ruiz said as several of his neighbors laughed. "It just shows total electricity charges, and that's it."

The complex uses a third party biller called Conservice, and there's just one account for the entire complex, so even though PG&E breaks down usage by unit, the company will only release the records to the landlord.

With fixed incomes and surprise bills, these folks needed help, but couldn't get a straight answer.

"You get a different story from whoever you talk to, so none of us really know what is going on," said Connie Werschem.

Rumors swirled as everyone complained to their neighbors and struggled to get information. Father Jim LaCasse confronted property managers at Manco Abbott two weeks ago and got a possible explanation from Conservice.

"They said, 'Oh, well, you're helping to pay for the solar,'" he said.

Management at the complex referred us to Manco Abbott vice president Adam Goldfarb, who says it's all a misunderstanding.

He said residents should be getting 10% discounts from what PG&E would charge them, but something went wrong when the electric company took the solar panels online. Instead of getting 10%, they got full credit for whatever power the panels generated.

Correcting the bills created significant charges going back a couple of months.

When an Action News reporter asked Goldfarb about the lack of details on the bills, he admitted the residents do have a right to know more, so a breakdown of their usage is in the mail for all of them.

Connie Werschem will believe it when she sees it.

"I don't know if I'm going to be billed for $250 or $450," she said.

Whatever the number, Goldfarb says Manco Abbott will work with residents to make sure they can catch up.
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