I once got an extra $200 bill from Houston Lighting and Power (now Centerpoint), for meter-tampering.  Now, this was a ridiculous assertion because I didn’t know jack about electricity, but HL&P demanded their $200.  It was that or get cut off, so in the end I had to pay. 

Revenge came pretty quickly.

Two years before, the Reagan tax cuts had dropped the corporate tax rate from 48% to 34%.  At the time I was working for another utility company and the regulatory body there required the company to pass the tax reduction through to the customers.  Well, I thought, it’s been two years, where was the tax refund from HL&P?

Some motivated research and accounting work showed me that HL&P was charging its customers 100 million dollars a year for federal taxes that they were no longer paying. I called an editor at the Houston Post (now defunct) who had previously published an article of mine and gave him the situation and the numbers.  A week later our lead Post editorial savaged HL&P for ripping off its customers.  It demanded a refund and a forward-looking rate reduction.  I made sure the Houston council and the state agencies got copies.  After a follow-up newspaper article and likely pressure from every corner, HL&P succumbed. They credited their customer’s bills for part of the overcharges.  They had to give the rest over the upcoming year because they did not have enough money!

Personally I ended up with about a $200 refund, plus, of course, the going-forward rate reduction of about $100 per year, so I considered me and HL&P even.  However, the collateral damage to the company was that a million other customers got the same thing.  Ouch.  I don’t remember the year exactly but the cash came in around December.  So I liked to think that for Houston, the whole Christmas of 1988 was on me! 

Merry Christmas Houston,

Tom Schmal