Meter Reader Craziness
December 28, 2013 9:17 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand why the energy company seems to (somewhat randomly) choose to estimate my energy usage rather than billing me for actual usage.

I pay the same company for gas, electric, and water. Gas and electric meters are right next to each other, in my gated backyard. We have dogs but they are never outside when we are not home, and we leave the gate unlocked and obviously open on meter reading days (at least, the meter reading days that are listed on the previous month's bill).

The water meter in down in a hole on the sidewalk... obviously not blocked by any sort of gate.

So why does the energy company EVER estimate my water meter reading, and why have they estimated my electric reading 7 out of the last 12 months, but only estimated the gas reading 4 of those months... when the meters are right next to each other?

And yes, I have tried calling the company. I have never gotten anyone to give me a straight answer other than "your gate must have been locked." I have specifically asked why they estimated my water reading then, since it's on the public sidewalk, and was told that they never do such a thing. I also asked to get an automated phone call reminder the night before meter reading day so I could be sure to open the gate, and I have only gotten that call 2 maybe 3 of the last 12 months.

I know that in the end, the amount I pay them all evens out over the year... but it drives me nuts not being able to look at my bill history and figure out my normal monthly usage since my electric meter was never actually read two months in a row - meaning even the months they did the "actual" reading, I don't know whether that amount was true to what I actually used that month, or whether it reflected an over- or underestimation the previous month. (Yes, I know I can read my own meter to keep up with usage but that doesn't help me in trying to analyze last year's usage.) It also drives me nuts to pay $50 one month and $250 the next. (I also know that "balanced billing" is an option but don't want to go there for various reasons.)

Is this much estimation normal? Is there anything I can do to ensure that my meter is actually read?
posted by raspberrE to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
It's normal. I've lived in WA, AK, CA, IA, ND, Winnipeg MB and Louisiana. This has been the policy in all those. They do that to ensure that the amount you pay is averaged. i.e. your bill isn't too high in the winter [if you live where it is cold] or too high in the summer [if you live where it is hot].

[Not being snarky hopefully] I suppose you can read the meter yourself.

In some of the colder states you can not pay for six months - an interruption in electricity can result in the customer dying.

So, yeah, totally normal in my experience.
posted by vapidave at 9:46 PM on December 28, 2013

Even though you pay the same company, it might not be that they are efficient enough to have the same person read both meters. We pay the same company for gas, water and electricity, and despite the fact they are all due within a few days of each other, we have different meter readers for each (and different phone numbers to call them to talk about each). I think they try to keep the branches of the company that are responsible for each utility functionally fairly separate. So sometimes one is estimated and one is read. Our water meter seems to be lazier than our electricity meter reader, for what it's worth. Water is mostly estimated, and electricity generally read, even though the meters are within a few metres of each other.
posted by lollusc at 10:20 PM on December 28, 2013

Hmmmm...have you tried reading the meters yourself? Should be relatively easy to read the numbers off the meters every 30 days just to double check.

Frankly, I would continue to pursue this with your gas/water/electric company. When I lived in NYC ConEd estimated my bill one month as $700 (for a tiny studio); it took me over 4 months of repeated calling to finally get the whole thing resolved.
posted by brookeb at 10:56 PM on December 28, 2013

My gas and electric go to the same company and they were never read by the same guy. I have no idea why. But yeah, different dudes, one meter was in my basement, and different months of estimates vs. real readings. Now they are all read by the magic of computers so its always exact and no dudes come by. (Water is a different company but also magic meter now.)

The helplines and outage lines and repair guys are TOTALLY separate, which makes more sense I guess. Natural gas is ALWAYS an emergency; electricity is more likely to go out over a large area at once. I can see why two utilities with such different maintenance needs might keep two hierarchies in place and that might make sense for keeping readers separate.

Do they have a voluntary update to computerized or WiFi reading, or a pilot program? We even got a discount for signing on to the pilot, and its really much more and better data on the bill. I thought we were late to transition so I assume everyone else already has magic meters!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:24 PM on December 28, 2013

The water meter in down in a hole on the sidewalk...

You sure about that? In my area the access holes in the lawns and sidewalks contain only shutoff valves. The meters are inside the houses, right where the pipe comes through the wall.
posted by jon1270 at 2:48 AM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you in Australia? Is your energy company Energy Australia?

if so this happens to us and we've been fighting them with the ombudsman for the best part of a year.

We actually have to pay $17 to have the meter read. We're happy (well not really) to have this happen, but they won't to it. They estimate three time greater than our actual usage - that's great, we're actually trying to cut down on consumption - y'know - climate change and all.

Anyway, I think it's normal. Our neighbours have the same issue. The company claim it's because we have a fence! - yeah, but we do supply a gate.
posted by mattoxic at 3:50 AM on December 29, 2013

You say this happens "randomly" - does the same guy read your meter each month, or is it a few different guys? Because that sounds like maybe one of those guys is just lazy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:18 AM on December 29, 2013

They do this because sending meter readers out on their rounds costs them money, and temporarily overcharging you makes them money. Any other reason they give is pure smokescreen.
posted by flabdablet at 5:26 AM on December 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

Even if they read your meter every month, they aren't going to be consistent about how many days are in a billing month. Our billing month may be 25 days one month then 34 the next. It just depends on when they get around to actually reading the meter.

Not that it really matters to me anyway. We signed up for the bill smoothing service years ago. I'd rather get a $99 gas bill every month versus $40 bills in the summer and $200 bills in the winter.
posted by COD at 7:14 AM on December 29, 2013

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