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Socorro Co-Op Overcharges Users Again

The Socorro Electric Cooperative has overcharged its customers again — this time to the tune of a half million dollars — but the error was caught quickly, and customers are already getting their money back.

General Manager Joseph Herrera told Socorro Electric trustees during a meeting last week that the co-op over-collected more than $500,000 during the last quarter of 2011. About $309,000 in overcharges were in debt cost, he said, and about $217,000 were for fuel cost.

The only questions trustees asked about the error were how the money would be paid back and whether the co-op needed to inform customers about it.

Herrera said the money would be paid back by applying a credit to customer accounts, which would be reflected on their bills. Trustee Prescilla Mauldin said customers probably didn’t need to be notified because it would be reported in El Defensor Chieftain.

After the meeting, Herrera said the errors occurred because forecasts overestimated debt and fuel costs. He also said the expectation was that there would be a draw down on the loan financing the new Quemado substation, but that didn’t happen. The substation is a $2.5 million project financed through a USDA Rural Utilities Service loan.

Herrera said some customers have already seen the credit applied for fuel cost reflected on their bills, and those who haven’t will see it show up on their next bill. The debt cost adjustment will be reflected on their bill the following month, he said.

In September 2010, it was discovered that Socorro Electric overcharged its customers approximately $1.6 million over a five-year period. That mistake occurred when rates were last adjusted and the debt and fuel costs were miscalculated when rolled into the base rate. Customers were paid back in the form of a patronage capital check but not until the following year.