O.C. Watchdog: SoCalGas blames higher bills on new meter errors – The Orange County Register

Southern California Gas Co. has acknowledged that errors tied to the rollout of new digital meters installed at Orange County homes contributed to a rash of higher bills and customer complaints in recent months. The utility company said unannounced changes to meter-reading schedules during the shift to “advanced” meters caused some of the billing anomalies that have surfaced since late January. As they have in the past, gas company officials attribute complaints about suddenly higher bills primarily to a cold snap and increased use of fuel for heating that bumped customers into more costly pricing tiers. However, this week’s response to Register questions about continuing consumer protests was the first time the switch to new meters was included as a factor in the problems. Still, critics argue that the issue goes beyond weather and meter-reading changes – citing unusual February bills and puzzling explanations by company representatives. The general confusion has left some customers distrustful of the advanced-meter accuracy. One measure of customer distress has been the number of written complaints received by the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the gas company. Those jumped tenfold to 500 in January and February from the same period last year. The new meters being installed across the county upload data directly to the gas company and are gradually eliminating human meter readers. Roughly 220,000 Orange County customers – out of 930,000 – still have older meters, according to the gas company. About 9 percent of the newly installed meters in the region are not fully operational. This week, SoCalGas spokesman Javier Mendoza noted the company recently made changes in the routes used by meter readers assigned to the older equipment, without giving customers prior notice. He said some customers received bills covering more than 35 days, with some extending up to 49 days – far more than the typical 29-to-32-day billing cycle. The bigger bills resulting from the changes were compounded by a colder-than-usual winter, Mendoza said. The gas company sent customers letters promising to adjust bills to reconcile any differences caused by the change. The onus, however, is on the customer to investigate any issues. Mendoza stressed only a small portion of bills were affected: 140,000 of 6 million. “We apologize for the inconvenience of making this change,” Mendoza said in a prepared statement to the Register. “SoCalGas recognizes that in any mass deployment of technology there may be some speed bumps.”

Source: O.C. Watchdog: SoCalGas blames higher bills on new meter errors – The Orange County Register

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