Gas meter-reading effort that will eliminate need for human readers faces challenges – The Orange County Register

Southern California Gas Co.’s plan to fully deploy a network of upgraded gas meters faces hurdles in some parts of Orange County as local officials assert they have the authority to approve where pole-mounted wireless transmitting units should go and how they should look, the Register has learned. Municipalities including Laguna Beach and Newport Beach have been involved in lengthy talks with SoCalGas over the setup of poles and antennas that collect data from “advanced” meters at homes and most businesses and send the data to the gas company. Cities across Southern California are in various stages of shifting to the advanced meter networks, which eventually are expected to eliminate the need for human meter readers. SoCalGas is still in the process of obtaining permits to install network units in Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. Buena Park has had the technology since late 2012. The network also has been set up in Irvine, but some recent installations were needed to fill gaps in the coverage. The systems in Seal Beach and Huntington Beach are works in progress. The local permitting challenges are the latest bump to emerge in the gas company’s massive effort to upgrade millions of old analog meters and phase out the process of sending workers through neighborhoods to read the units manually. Over the last six years, SoCalGas personnel assigned to meter reading have been reduced from more than 1,000 to about 70, company figures show.

Source: Gas meter-reading effort that will eliminate need for human readers faces challenges – The Orange County Register

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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