My electric and gas utility company has been cited as the most expensive power utility in the USA. Their rates are higher, their bank balance is bulging, and they get what they want from the public utilities commission. Sadly, as with most any type of utility, you don’t have too much choice, if any, with whom you can do business with. Seems as though the term monopoly doesn’t apply to some of these behemoths. Hence – Piggy Piggy!
Years ago the house I was living in had gas and electric service from this one company. To the south side of the house was a fence. On the front side of the fence and attached to the house was the electric meter, easily accessible. Behind the fence and hidden behind the chimney’s base was the gas meter. That meter could not be seen unless one was standing directly in front of it. That would necessitate a person entering through a side gate on the opposite side of the house, then traversing the length of the lot to the other side of the house. With a 110 pound German Shepherd patrolling his domain, and my back yard, not too many folks ventured back there.
So the utility company could read meters that were not easily seen they developed a meter card. The card was made of plastic, had dials printed on it, and had movable indicator needles. These cards looked like the meter face. A customer would go to their gas or electric meter, set the dial on the card to the same position as the actual meter and then place the card in a location, such as a window or by the front door, so the utility company meter reader had access to it. So customers could not take advantage of this ‘honor system’ the utility requested that their meter reader be allowed visible inspection at least twice a year. This was not a problem as long as I knew when they were to do this so I could secure the dog.
After living in this house for about 28 years, and having placed this gas meter card in my front window for about 27.5 of those years I never knew of any issues. Goofy me!
One day I placed the meter card in the front living room window in the early morning. I knew that the utility company would be there that day as they gave customers a schedule of their reading days. This was a weekday and I did not have to be at work that day so I happened to be there when the meter reader passed by the front window. The reader walked by the gas meter card without glancing at the card and went to the electric meter to which there was access. I heard the small door, that secured the meter from the elements, first open then shut. The meter reader then walked by the front window for a second time and passed right by the gas meter card, again, without stopping to jot down the meter readings. “Oh boy!” I thought, this is going to be good when I get the gas bill.
About five days later the electic and gas bill comes in the mail. I open it and to my surprise find that although the electricity charges are correct the gas is off slightly, by the tune of $110.00. It was a pretty good size overcharge. The utility bills do show past and current meter readings, which when subtracted from one another give you your current bill’s chargeable amount of usage. I looked at the gas meter card that I had set, compared those numbers to the bill, then walked outside to the gas meter and compared the actual right-now meter reading to the bill. Go figure, the gas meter’s dials were not even close to what was on the bill.
I go back in the house, pick up my cordless phone, and dial the utility giant’s phone number. After having a cup of coffee, two cigarettes, and doodling on the bill I finally break through the “Your call is important to us, you are the tenth customer, please hold.” I explain to their billing department the overcharge situation, and how I was home the day their meter reader didn’t read. I was asked if I was on a cordless phone to which I indicated I was. I was then asked to go to the meter and read the gauges to repeat the numbers, which I did.
The next question this customer service representative asked me was if I knew how to read a meter. Huh? Why didn’t she ask me that first? I explained I did, and knew that when a gauge needle reads between two numbers on the dial that you use the lower number. So, if it is between the 8 and 7 the correct reading is 7. I regurgitated this knowledge to their representative and was then asked “Well, how do I know that you gave me the correct reading?” This was in the days before smart phones, e-mails, and people only heard of something known as the internet, so a quick photo was not possible. My only course of action was to then state to her, “Well, why don’t you send out one of your meter readers and you can hold on the phone till they get here, or they can call you back.”
Seems this called her bluff. After giving me some more grief, probably because we know the utility company is never wrong, she indicated that the meter would have to be verified for its’ reading and then they could assist. Having a feeling this process was not going to happen I cheerfully asked for her supervisor. I was told that I couldn’t speak to her supervisor. I asked “Why do you have supervisors if customers can’t speak with them?” Of course there was no response so I simply asked for the supervisor’s supervisor. This must have not have been in their corporate manual on what to do, so she finally, with huffing and hissing, and reluctance, stated I would receive a credit on my next bill. (Which I did.)
The following day I happened to see my next door neighbor and this situation came up in conversation. I mentioned to him to double-check his bill. The day after that he told me that he, too, had an incorrect charge to his gas bill. I reiterated what I had done to correct their wrong against me and he was then off to his phone.
Ever since then, and it has been about 18 years since that experience, I read my meter and write down the usage on a monthly basis. In so doing I have caught two additional overcharges, each one over $100, both of those on the electric usage.
So, if you do some quick math, and know this utility has about 10 million residential customers, and that if each of those customers is overcharged $100, say every ten years, then this company may have garnished a whopping free $100M per decade. Personally this has happened to me on at least three meter readings I know of. Neighbors – them to. You?
Most people I have told this to admitted to never reading their meter, and rely on the utility company to let them know their usage. Most now read their meters.
Granted this is only my theory, I will never be privy to the utility company’s records for verification, and I already know what they would say.
So, go out and trust your new Smart Meter because they say it’s great, yeah right!