One of the hallmarks of my writing is an unflinching appraisal of the problems within our society, and what it says about where we’re headed. This commentary is heavily influenced by my own experiences. Enraging, traumatic, frustrating or humorous, in the end it’s all story fuel one way or another. What follows is a humorous look at some recent battles with my electric company.
Inspiration struck last night when I noticed that my ISP hadn’t charged my credit card when they should have.
GCI rep: We’d be happy to look into that for you. What’s your passcode?
Me: Heck if I know. I only have to call you guys once every couple of years. I’m really surprised your new e-bill system lost my payment– you guys are usually the opposite of GVEA.
For reference, Golden Valley Electric Association is my electric company and the gold standard of suck. Shortly after that conversation with my ISP’s billing department, my neighborhood was struck by a blackout.
GVEA: THAT’S for having the gall to criticize our broken payment system and lousy service.
Me: For freak’s sake, it’s barely even windy!
GVEA: I’m sorry, our outage line is currently out of service.
Golden Valley provides service on par with that of a third-world country. Since it’s the only electric company in this part of the state, it can hold the local population hostage to unreliable service, inexplicable blackouts, high prices, and routine overcharges.
Even though this is Alaska and snowstorms are a normal part of life, every storm comes with the promise of outages that last anywhere from hours to days. In the case of places at the edge of Golden Valley’s service area, winter outages can last a week or more. Wind brings the threat of incessant, breaker-tripping power flickers. Every year Golden Valley raises their rates and promises to put the money toward line clearing and upgrades to increase reliability, and every winter the outages occur anyway.
Me, calling after a heavy snow: My power flickers off every time the wind blows. It’s really freaking annoying. You need to check the lines in my area.
GVEA: Check the line from our transformer to your house. There’s probably a tree touching it, but that’s not our problem because our responsibility ends where your property begins.
Me: My drop line is buried. There’s literally no way there could be tree touching it.
GVEA: Hangs up on me.
Me: Goes for a short explore and finds multiple snow-laden trees resting on the power line not a thousand feet down the main road from my house. Posts photos, notes the location, and tags Golden Valley.
GVEA: Bans me from posting photos and comments to their page.
It’s almost as if they scoff at the idea that their customers should be able to expect reliable service. In that way, Golden Valley is very much an Alaskan company. Enabled by toothless and apathetic regulatory agencies, GVEA provides the absolute minimum level of service while fleecing their customers for all they’re worth.
Me: Calls outage line after a series of inexplicable short blackouts.
GVEA: We haven’t detected any outages in your area.
Me: Really? There have been 6 in the last two hours.
GVEA: Have you checked the line from the transformer to your house? It’s probably–
Me: We’ve already done this. The drop line at this location is buried. There’s physically no way for something to be touching the line between your transformer and my meter.
GVEA: We’ve been changing out some switches, but those interruptions were only a few seconds long. That’s not an outage.
Me: Where do you work?
GVEA: We’re located at 758 Illinois St.
Me: I’m going to come down there and reset your power supply at random intervals throughout your workday. Don’t worry– I’ll only turn off your power for a few seconds each time. Let me know how much work you get done when you have to keep restarting your computer and logging back into all of your programs.
GVEA: I’m reporting this threat to the police.
Whether it’s forgetting to send me a bill, locking me out of my account, or “losing” my online payments, GVEA seems strangely averse to actually taking my money. They aren’t shy about charging late fees, though.
GVEA: Locks me out of the online billing system after one misspelled password.
Me: Tries to reset password.
GVEA: We’re going to need your phone number, home address, full social security number, emergency passcode we made you set up ten years ago and haven’t used since, mother’s maiden name, old password you can’t remember, AND a call to a disinterested service representative to reset this.
Me: You have to be freaking kidding me.
GVEA: Sir, we take payment security very seriously.
Me: Your system is so outdated that the only thing I can do from your e-bill portal is make a payment. You require more verification than my bank, all so no one else can pay my bill for me. Do you have any idea how ridiculous that is?!
GVEA: Look, if you won’t give a random call center worker enough info to completely steal your identity, I’m afraid you’re just going to have drive to our office and stand in line for an hour to pay your bill.
That’s pretty much the definition of GVEA’s ethos. Grim, right? That’s why I write about things like this: because bright light is the best disinfectant. I hope this made you laugh. I hope it pisses you off. I hope it reminds you of the predatory business practices you’ve seen in your own community. And ultimately I hope it compels you to get out and vote for officials who’ll hold essential service providers accountable.