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Summit Nears Return To Normal Collections

3 min read

The Arkansas Public Service Commission, the state attorney general’s office and Summit Utilities have agreed on a framework for Summit to resume natural gas shut-offs and late charges.

Attorney General Tim Griffin had asked the PSC, which regulates utilities, to investigate Colorado-based Summit earlier this year after thousands of Arkansans reported billing errors or trouble getting payments credited.

Now regulators and Griffin’s office agree Summit has largely cleared up its billing difficulties.

Summit, which acquired CenterPoint Energy gas operations in Oklahoma and Arkansas in a $2.15 billion deal that closed last year, has about 425,000 business and residential gas accounts in Arkansas. About 47,000 of those, including 4,000 business and commercial accounts, could be subject to disconnection when normal collection practices return. The average past-due amount for residential customers is $585, according to the PSC.

Elana Foley, director of telecommunications and consumer services on the general staff of the PSC, testified that after closing the deal with CenterPoint in January 2022, Summit lacked its own infrastructure for accounting, billing and customer service. So it entered into a transition services deal with CenterPoint to provide those services, she said.

“In preparation for the full turn-over of the system to Summit, CenterPoint was also required to transfer the accounting and customer data to Summit’s new Customer Information System platform,” Foley added. After that turnover, the attorney general and PSC began receiving customer complaints.

Foley and the attorney general’s office say Summit has effectively dealt with the billing issues. At press time last week, a PSC order setting a date for shut-offs to resume was expected any day. “Currently, there are only three unresolved consumer complaints regarding billing and payment issues that the Consumer Services section is in the process of resolving with the company,” Foley testified on July 11.

Foley did recommend that the PSC have Summit provide quarterly reports on customer billing issues for the next two years.

Summit has hired 75 customer service representatives in Arkansas and Oklahoma since November and announced significant hires in the executive suite this month. Former Windstream Holdings CFO Bob Gunderman was named Summit’s chief financial officer on July 5, and on July 19 the utility announced two key customer-facing positions.

Cindy Westcott returned to the company in a new role, vice president of customer development; she had previously been president of operations for Summit’s Arkansas and Oklahoma units. Eliza Castillo was introduced as senior director of customer experience.

Westcott, who has an industrial engineering degree from the University of Arkansas and an MBA from Arkansas State, “will focus on Summit’s customer growth, energy efficiency, and customer experience,” the company said.

Castillo, who has a bachelor’s in business administration from the University of Houston, is a 15-year veteran of CenterPoint and a performance management director. She will guide “continuous improvement” of customer service, credit and collections, and billing services, according to a Summit news release.

A Summit spokeswoman, Stephanie Sharp, told Arkansas Business last week that it is pleased to move toward normal collections under the direction of the PSC.

She also noted testimony before the commission by Deputy Attorney General Charles Harder that concluded Summit has changed its practices, “added customer-focused employees, and has committed to monitoring its billing and other customer services.”

Sharp said customers struggling to pay or concerned about their bill should call Summit at  1-800-992-7552 weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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