$953.01 gas bill. when I expected it to be $150

So, my husband opens the gas bill from Nicor and shouts that the gas bill is a thousand dollars. What? I exclaim and hurry over to him. $953.01. Now, our gas bill has been lower lately than it was last year, so my first paranoid speculation is that they have estimated the bill low for months and are socking it to us now. I ask KellyM to go read the meter, because last months was estimated, but this one was read. So she goes out and says that it reads just over the bill reading, so it is correct. Then I notice the graph. It says that we used three times the amount of gas than we did last February when it was colder. Lately we have been keeping the thermostats a bit lower than we had been, and are not heating the garage. We also have a new, allegedly more energy efficient, clothes dryer. My next little paranoid thought is that we must have a big leak, but I think we would have smelled it, or exploded by now. KellyM goes back out, looks at the meter again and announces that the bill reading is off by at least 1,000 units. She then takes pictures and after 4 tries gets lighting, camera angle, and focus clear enough that I can see it is under the reading in the bill. I then go to the websites for Nicor and Citizens’ Utility Board(CUB) and ask Nicor to void this bill and send me one based on something close to reality explaining how the meter appears to have been misread. I tell CUB what has happened and what I have asked Nicor to do. Now I wait until Monday. My husband just recalculated the bill based on a reading 1,000 units less and he thinks it should be $134, which is credible.

A few weeks ago someone was on the Radio from CUB talking about a rash of egregious meter misreadings and mis-estimated bills that were costing many a great deal more than they should be paying, or in some cases underestimating what they should pay for a long time and then hitting the customer with a huge bill to make up for the shortfall. I suppose I should not be too shocked, but I was.

I meant to post this in MPSIMS.



Yeah, maybe a faulty meter.

It might be venting out the dryer exhaust before you smell it. Stick your head in there and take a whiff?

I imagine the gas company would let you pay it over time if they won’t back down. They should also send someone out to audit your home, checking for leaks.

Good heavens, lee, what a nightmare! I’m glad you two had the presence of mind to check the meter twice and figure out what was going on.

So, is it a loony meter reader? A loony supervisor? An entire loony utility company?

And what comes next?

Well, I am guessing it is a lazy meter reader. There is a bush in front of the meter so getting the right angle to read it is non-trivial, especially since the meter reader is 6’8" and built large. KellyM is thin enough to read it easily, but he might have an issue, though not previously. Also, they supposedly installed a new meter so it could be read remotely. I am not sure why this is not being done.

I worry that it is a screwy gas company since the CUB guy mentioned other instances of this. I hope they don’t fight re-reading it.

Paying the $134 (your estimate of an accurate bill) by the due date will put you in a much better position about this, especially if they try to charge you interest, late fees, etc.

I suggest you pay that amount, if they haven’t straightened it out by the due date. And mark “corrected amount!” on your payment.

Well, the due date is 1/02/09, and I sincerely hope we can work something out by then. My plan is not to pay the $134, but to pay the slightly larger amount which is the amount it would be for the actual reading we took and have photo evidence of and pay it well before the due date. The good news is that they are absolutely forbidden to cut our gas off before April in any case and we at least have a fireplace and a cord of wood (an actual cord not a face cord). I am working on a letter to send with a copy of the photo, copies of the bill, outlining what we think happened and what we expect from them.

This happens and they usually just take the customer reading you give when they talk to you. Your house is going nowhere so they know it will be read the next month and prove you right or wrong. I have always sent the amount really due so the payment is not late. Being off by one digit is easy to do.

What I don’t understand is why they don’t have something to flag extremely unusual bills for a re-read. The bill is so much higher than even the one for coldest previous month that it should have stood out, and if mis-reading is so easy, then they ought to have such a program. Any usage more than say 50% over the previous highest bill gets a second read, or at least comes to the attention of some human. It should be trivial to implement. Some computer is making that graph; it seems it could flag outrageous amounts.

That happened to me once with the power company. I took a picture of the graph for posterity.

I asked them to come out and read the meter again, but they just took my word for what it said and sent me another bill.

That happened to me once - they just came out, reread it, corrected it, no problem.

Still scary when you first open the bill…

My meter is in my kitchen so the meter reading guy must come into my apartment to read it. Unfortunately he always comes to the apartment at 7 in the morning so I am usually in the shower when he comes by to check the meter, meaning that I haven’t had a legitimate reading of my meter in about 7 months. On top of that they had to replace my meter about 6 months ago and the one they replaced it with is broken and never reads anything other than 3 so it wouldn’t matter if they could get in to read it anyway. Since they only operate during hours that I’m at work I guess I can’t get a new one any time soon so I’m stuck with estimated readings until I move to a different apartment at some point in the future.

lee, if the problem is a bad read, not a leaking line, and if you pay a reasonable amount soon, then wait for the next reading, that should reveal the error. If that reading is less than your most recent one, the gas company’s bill should show a billing credit (or else the meter is going backwards) and everything should be OK.

pbbth, my family had a similar situation years ago, with both water and gas meters inside the house and no one ever home during business hours. After protesting the estimated readings, we were able to convince them to give us postcards with drawings of little dials on them. Once a month, we mailed in a card with the position of the hands drawn in by us. I don’t think we had an official meter reading in 10 years.

This happened to me once but with the power bill. Mine is usually around $60 a month. Opened the bill and it was over $300. I called the power company and the lady said to go out, read the meter and tell her what it said. She recalculated my bill, adjusted my account, and I only paid the amount she told me. It worked itself out the next couple of cycles.

Back in college we once had a water bill that was a few hundred dollars, probably ten times more than what our bill normally was. We had them check the meter, which was working OK, and they also said there were no leaks in the main leading to the house. The house we lived in had a separate apartment in the basement but the utilities weren’t separate. Turns out the guy downstairs had been gone for about two weeks and had a toilet that had been running the entire time. One of us did the math and figured it went through about a gallon a minute nonstop for the two weeks the guy was gone.

The utility bill for my one-bedroom apartment is usually under $100. One month I opened the bill and it was over $3000! After considering the possibility that the cost of gas and electricity really had jumped that high (this was during a period when there were constant news stories about people being shocked by their high bills), I realized that even if I left every light and appliance in my apartment on for the entire month, I couldn’t get the bill that high. The bill also included severe penalties for going over my standard allotments.

I called the electric company and told them that there appeared to be a problem with my bill. The customer service person looked it up and started laughing because she could see how out of line it was. She had me go down and read my meter, and when I gave her the number, she told me that the meter reader had made an error in the 1000’s column. She gave me the correct amount for my bill, and told me to go ahead and send it in, and she would correct the records. That was several years ago, and I haven’t had a problem since.

We had a similar problem, but a whole different cause. We had just moved into our apartment. We’d been there one month when we got our first Entergy bill.

$6,000. And some change. We freaked.

Until we realized what had happened. The tenant before us had been evicted under, apparently, less than nice circumstances. When they finally moved out, they TOOK THE METER. That was one of the things we had to wait on before we moved in.

We called Entergy. When we told them the bill amount, the young lady gasped and said, “Oh, yeah. That’s not right. We’ll send someone out tomorrow to look at the meter, and we’ll send you a new bill.”

True to their word, they did what they promised. The bill was adjusted to around $100, which was much more reasonable. Apparently, they took the last reading from the missing meter, compared it to the reading on the newly installed meter, and billed us for enough electricity to light the whole town for a week. AFAIK, they still haven’t caught the idiots who ripped out the meter. And it made an incredible story to share with my customer service team on how to handle a complaint.

So, I called them, and they agreed the reading must be off. When I gave him the actual reading from Saturday, he recalculated the bill as being just over $4.00. I said it was about $134 according to the recalculations we did. He said we were free to pay an amount higher than the $4 if we wanted. I am having my husband recalculate it again and we will send that amount in. He says there is supposed to be a meter reading on January 9, 2009.