Help me foil Keyspan
October 17, 2008 6:10 AM   Subscribe

Keyspan, now National Grid (in Brooklyn), I think is completely ripping me off. Is there someone independent I can call to audit my bill and meter? I just got a bill for $240 for one month for a 1BR apartment! For the summertime!

Keyspan, now National Grid, has always been baffling--my bills are routinely extremely high, but they don't seem to correspond to any actual behavior on my part. I control my own heat--which obviously I don't use in the summer--shower once daily, and cook a few times a week. I don't understand how this month's bill could be $240.

My last few months' bills were estimated because they only read the meter every other month, and sometimes they can't gain access to the basement to read the meter. (Super's here sometimes, sometimes not.) Wintertime bills have been huge--sometimes a couple of hundred dollars a month--despite my keeping the thermostat very low during the day and off at night.

My bills seem to be higher than the other three 1BR's in the building.

I've asked Keyspan to check their numbers; it insists they're right. My question is--is there someone independent I can hire to "audit" the meter and the numbers? (Situation is complicated by the fact that we're in a conflict with the landlord and the super is loathe to do us any favors, like let someone in the basement.)
posted by Ollie to Work & Money (23 answers total)
Response by poster: P.S. If you live in New York and in a 1BR and control your own heat, care to share what you pay per month?
posted by Ollie at 6:13 AM on October 17, 2008

I don't think we have enough info to answer the question, but it's not unusual that the bill after the estimate is higher (or lower) than expected. For instance:

Month 1: estimate = 100 units, actual = 125 units
Month 2: estimate = 100 units, actual = 125 units
Month 3: estimate = 100 units, actual = 125 units
Month 4: actual = 125 units, bill = 200 units! (500 since last reading - 300 paid for)
posted by smackfu at 6:26 AM on October 17, 2008

I can answer part of your question: For a 500 sq ft studio in Brooklyn (water heater, heat, gas stove) my bills range from ~$20 in the summer to ~$150 in the winter, or they did till I switched to level billing.

And though you didn't ask about this part, you can enter your own meter readings on their website, so you don't have to rely on your landlord. I'll leave it to others on the audit front, but I've never felt like Keyspan/National Grid was ripping me off, so I doubt it is a systemic issue.
posted by dame at 6:29 AM on October 17, 2008

Is it possible you are paying for gas used elsewhere in the building.
posted by Gungho at 6:32 AM on October 17, 2008

I'm not in your city, or even your state, and have no experience with your gas supplier either, but I agree that it sounds as if something's amiss. Can you fill in some details, such as what sort of heating you have (forced air furnace, or something else?), and whether you are on a budget plan that aims to save you from unmanageably high winter bills by having you pay more during the summertime?

If your gas bill looks anything like mine, it will tell you not only the amount you owe, but the volume of gas used each month in either hundreds of cubic feet (ccf) or thousands of cubic feet (Mcf). For comparison's sake, my gas usage in a wood-framed ~900 square foot house in Ohio, with forced-air gas heat, gas water heater (2 showers per day) and a gas stove on which we cook every day, plus a poorly-insulated, partially heated single car garage, is 560 ccf per year. I'm on a variable-rate budget plan, so I get billed for 46.6 ccf every month, summer and winter, at whatever the month's prevailing cost is. This month, the rate is around $1.20 per ccf, so my bill is around $56 plus some modest delivery fees.

I think you should read your bill carefully and figure out where the price is coming from. Are your rates astronomically high? Does National Grid gouge customers on delivery fees? Are they saying you consume enormous amounts of gas?
posted by jon1270 at 6:33 AM on October 17, 2008

Sorry, meant to add: for a gas dryer, water heater, stove, and gas log (fireplace) my bill has never been above $50.00 even in winter. My major heatsource is oil fired.
posted by Gungho at 6:34 AM on October 17, 2008

Response by poster: I don't know if this will help clarify, but the bill says:

In 32 days you used 135 therms:
Sept 15 2008 reading ACTUAL 1320
Aug 14 2008 reading ESTIMATED 1189
CCF Used for METER #xxxx 131

Thermal Factor x1.0307
Total Therms used 135

Your cost is determined as follows:
Min charge (first 3.2 therms or less) $14.08
Next 50.1 @ $.6156 $30.84
Next 81.7 @ $.3157 $25.79
System benefits charge @$.01760/therm $2.38

GAS Supply Charge @$1.16820/therm $157.71

MTA surcharge .41
4% sales tax 9.25

TOTAL $240.46
posted by Ollie at 6:43 AM on October 17, 2008

Response by poster: Gungho, are you in NY city?
posted by Ollie at 6:47 AM on October 17, 2008

Had to google "therm" because it's not a unit used in Ohio, but it looks as if it's roughly 1 ccf. So they're billing you for 135 ccfs, which is more than I use for my entire household in February, my highest-consumption month. It's probably safe to assume you haven't actually consumed anywhere near that much gas. This suggests that either the meter they use to measure your consumption is broken, or gas is going through that meter that you aren't actually using. If it's the latter, it could be that other people's appliances are connected to your gas line, or there's a big honking leak somewhere and you should evacuate the building.
posted by jon1270 at 6:52 AM on October 17, 2008

Oops, didn't read carefully...

In 32 days you used 135 therms:
Sept 15 2008 reading ACTUAL 1320
Aug 14 2008 reading ESTIMATED 1189
CCF Used for METER #xxxx 131

So they're billing for 131 ccf, not 135. Doesn't really matter, it's still ridiculous. I suspect you're going to find that whatever the cause, it will become obvious that you've been overpaying for a long time, but it will be impossible to say by exactly how much. Once you get the problem fixed, it's gonna get sticky trying to resolve who owes who for charges already paid.
posted by jon1270 at 7:00 AM on October 17, 2008

Do you have the same lines from previous bills, back to the last ACTUAL reading?
posted by smackfu at 7:10 AM on October 17, 2008

I just got a bill for $240 for one month for a 1BR apartment! For the summertime!

I'm also in Brooklyn, and I also got that.

And I was about to call them until I realized that....wait, it was summer, and that meant that the air conditioner was on an AWFUL lot. The fact that my September bill was only $100 and my October bill was only $50 reinforced the theory that "it was because of the air conditioner."

Air conditioners use a LOT of electricity.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:12 AM on October 17, 2008

Call them call them call them call them. When I first lived in Brooklyn our electric bill was like $300. When I called to inquire they said "lol mistake okay u owe 75 srry". I don't want to get on my tin foil hat, but sometimes it seems like they're just fishing for a sucker. Eitehr that or your meter is botched. Either way, get it fixed.
posted by GilloD at 7:19 AM on October 17, 2008

Response by poster: Empress: AC is electric, and this problem is Keyspan, not ConEd...I'll do battle with Con Ed another day...
posted by Ollie at 7:30 AM on October 17, 2008

Same thing happened to me in Boston (which is also National Grid.) I was on a balanced billing plan to avoid outrageous winter heating bills and still the month to month was ridiculously high. Found out - unfortunately through the landlord (whom I get along with) which doesn't sound like an option in your case - that I happened to be paying for the communal laundry facilities in a triple decker as well as two of the hot water heaters. You could be in a similar boat.

I know this didn't answer your question about an independent auditor, so apologies for that. My advice there would be to call around to various contractors and ask them if they're equipped to handle your request.
posted by Rewind at 7:31 AM on October 17, 2008

Ollie: what are your past bills like from the last actual meter reading? It is quite possible that you underpaid for quite a while.
posted by Stynxno at 7:34 AM on October 17, 2008

Response by poster: Just called them--they haven't been able to read the meter since 11/07. Obviously, this is a problem and I'll deal with it from now on--but my estimated bills since the beginning of this year have ranged from ~$150/month in Jan/Feb/March to ~$50-$60/month in the summer.

They read the meter recently, which is why this bill is $240--they said they've been underbilling me.

Still have the original problem: This seems high for a small one-bedroom. Does anyone know what KIND of contractor I should contact for some kind of audit? Has anyone ever done this before?
posted by Ollie at 7:49 AM on October 17, 2008

You said your bills were routinely extremely high, which gave me the impression that the $240 bill was typical and that bills went even higher in the winter months. If your current bill is, perhaps, $185 higher than it would've normally been at this time of year, and if that $185 is making up for almost a year of underbilling, then the situation is not nearly so extreme as I thought.

That aside, it still sounds like a lot for one person in a 1BR. You probably use 5 or 6 ccf per month for hot water and cooking at this time of year. Working through the billing structure you posted above, 6 therms should come to $15.92 for gas, maybe $3.25 for delivery, $0.77 for tax, or roughly $20 for the whole bill. It still sounds like either the meter is borked, or you're paying for someone else's usage. It's harder to say whether your bills are too high in the winter, since we know nothing about the insulation, windows, etc.

You need someone to follow the pipes. I would think that either a pipefitter or an HVAC contractor would be able to help you navigate the maze.
posted by jon1270 at 8:13 AM on October 17, 2008

Empress: AC is electric, and this problem is Keyspan, not ConEd...I'll do battle with Con Ed another day...

Oh, duh, I got those backwards -- my mistake, sorry.

Just called them--they haven't been able to read the meter since 11/07. Obviously, this is a problem and I'll deal with it from now on--but my estimated bills since the beginning of this year have ranged from ~$150/month in Jan/Feb/March to ~$50-$60/month in the summer.

They read the meter recently, which is why this bill is $240--they said they've been underbilling me.

Okay, that actually makes sense -- that's almost a year of estimates they're catching up on. Even with jon1270's estimation above, if you divide that $240 amongst 12 months, that works out to $21 a month -- so they may be just trying to catch up on about $15-20 a month of the billing being off (even less if you factor in whatever thsi month's actual use was). It's only the fact that they're trying to do it all at once that's making it look so high.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:19 AM on October 17, 2008

It sounds like you have your problem figured out, but I'll throw my two cents in anyways.

We also have Keyspan/National Grid on Long Island. I got a big bill ($250ish) around May - but they also estimate between readings every other month. So I figured that they underbilled for March and then I got a big bill when they read for April.

But it turns out that they had made an error in the actual reading, and overbilled me for 100 therms. I'm in a detached house, so it was easy to go read my own meter and call in a correction. If you can access your meter (match the serial # printed on your bill if there is a big array of meters in the basement), see if the reading on your bill matches the meter dials. I think there is a page on the Keyspan website that tells you how to read the dials, which is not straightforward, you have to work at it a bit.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 8:39 AM on October 17, 2008

I would look into whether something else is on your gas line or they misread. I went back and looked at my bills and for a place smaller than yours: a summer reading of 5 therms cost me $21 and a winter reading at 50 therms cost me $107. They give the averages on that and I use very little gas: the average low was 116 therms and the average high 701, for winter.
posted by dame at 10:22 AM on October 17, 2008

Agree with mbd1mdb1 - if you can get access to your meter, check it and make sure they read it right. It's just a person coming to look at the meter, so there's always human error. If it's less than what the last bill says, they read it wrong. I'm in Queens, and I had to call ConEd (they do our gas up here) because they misread the meter once. It wasn't a big deal at all. They fixed the bill, emailed me a new one. And, the following month was super cheap because my "revised reading" was halfway into the next month, which was a nice unexpected surprise. I did have to finagle the keys from the business on the first floor to venture into the gross basement though. Ew.

If the meter reading seems accurate, your beef isn't with Keyspan, it's with your building/landlord/your apt - where else are you heating/using gas that maybe you shouldn't be?/why is the gas in your apt so inefficient or being wasted?

If you have had estimated readings for almost a year...then unfortunately, you might be stuck making up for the last 12 months. If that's the case, your issue is to make sure that the meter-reader always has a way to have access to the meter. (I've fortunately never had to deal with estimated bills, thanks to the business on the 1st floor.)
posted by AlisonM at 11:20 AM on October 17, 2008

Do you live in an apartment building or a private home converted into apartments. If it's the latter, you may be in the same situation I found myself in. My landlord never split the gas line for the boiler from the meter that reads my apartment's usage. So I've been paying to heat the boiler for the entire building when in fact I should not be paying that at all (NYC residents DO NOT have to pay for hot water unless you agreed to it in your lease). The term for this is a "shared meter" and you need to call Keyspan and ask them to do an investigation. ConEd gave me the run around for months, so call, ask to speak to the shared meter department and insist on an investigation because normal use for a 1BR apartment without gas heating is about 1 therm a month for a gas stove/oven with cooking 3-4 times per week.
posted by blueskiesinside at 5:02 PM on October 17, 2008

« Older Pickup Soccer in Philly?   |   What's a fun lunch in LA? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.