Bamboozled June 27, 2018: Have you checked your utility bill? This couple was told they owe more than $8K

Joyce and Al Andreola receive electricity from PSE&G for their Edison home.

The couple has lived in the home for 26 years, Joyce Andreola said, and the utility bill has been consistent over that time.

But when the couple opened their bill for the month ending May 22, they were in for a shocker.

It said they owed $8,422.29.

“I thought oh my God, how are we going to pay this? It has to be a mistake,” Andreola said.

They called PSE&G.

“We were told that we do owe this much money because they weren’t able to read our meter and were estimating it for the last year,” Andreola said.

A view of the side of the Andreola’s home, which is unobstructed, showing the meter area can be accessed easily.

PSE&G meter readers were unable to access the meter to give it a true read, she said she was told.

But that made no sense, Andreola said.

“Our meter is outside. There are no fences to open,” she said, noting there are no large bushes or other obstacles in front of the meter. “A meter reader could easily park in front of my house and walk up and take a reading.”

PSE&G agreed to send a technician to examine the meter, but no one could come until June 21.

But the mammoth bill was due on June 8. Andreola didn’t want to pay, and she also didn’t want to face penalties for paying late.

Andreola asked Bamboozled for help.

We examined photos of the side of Andreola’s home, which shows the path to the meter is as clear as she claimed.

Then we reached out to PSE&G, asking it to examine the case and at the very least, delay the due date on the disputed amount until someone could examine the meter. The company said it would take a look.

We checked in with the Board of Public Utilities to see exactly how the rules work when estimated payments are involved.

We were pointed to the New Jersey Administrative Code, which said utilities “shall maintain a regular meter reading schedule and make a reasonable effort to read all meters.”

That includes offering to schedule meter readings for evenings and on weekends. If the customer doesn’t comply with requests, “the utility may discontinue service provided at least eight months have passed since the last meter reading was obtained.”

Customers who have low estimates that result in a surprisingly high actual bill can have a payment plan, the rules say. If the charge is at least 25 percent greater than the prior estimated bill, the utility must allow the customer to spread the payments in equal installments over a time period that’s equal to the time period when no actual readings were taken.

So at the very least Andreola would be able to spread out the payments.

We were hoping for better. And we got it.

Two days later, a rep from PSE&G came to the home to take a photo of the meter, Andreola said.

And the next day, Andreola received a call.

“Someone named Jackie called and said we only owe $249.12,” Andreola said. “This whole situation was cleared up because of your intervention.”

We were glad to hear it, but we wanted to know what happened and what other customers can do if their bill has a sudden and unexplained spike.

The electricity meter at Joyce Andreola’s home is unobstructed and easy to access. 

In this case, the meter wasn’t broken or inaccurate. It was simply misread in May, PSE&G spokeswoman Karen Johnson said.

When the tech returned after our request, the usage was in line with previous usage and the account was adjusted.

Johnson also said the account “would most likely have been corrected when we read the meter on her June meter reading date of June 21.”

We asked what had gone wrong.

“We incorrectly thought that the estimates on the account were due to no access,” she said, noting that in the past 12 months, Andreola’s meter was estimated six times because of bad weather “and other factors” that prevented actual readings.

Mistakes do happen. We thank PSE&G for clearing this up so quickly for the customer.

PSE&G said it strives to read each meter every month, but sometimes weather or other circumstances get in the way.

So, dear readers, be sure to read your monthly bills closely, and if you go more than a month or two with only estimated readings, contact your utility and insist someone come for a real reading.

No one wants an $8,500 surprise.

THE OTHER METER MYSTERY

This brings us to another PSE&G mystery. This one was in the customer’s favor.

Rose Gordon of Newark received an unexpected letter from the utility. It said she was a credit of $1,423.15 would be applied to her account because of a gas meter change.

Gordon said she didn’t understand how she was overcharged, or for how long, or how the credit was calculated.

A call to PSE&G didn’t clear things up so she asked Bamboozled for help.

PSE&G got us the answer.

In November 2017, Gordon’s gas meter was changed as part of the company’s efforts to replace older meters, spokeswoman Johnson said. The old meter was tested in April, and PSE&G found it had been running fast, which meant it recorded higher gas usage, she said.

When Gordon called for an explanation, “we explained that anytime a meter is running more than 2 percent fast, a fast meter credit is calculated,” Johnson said.

“The representative explained the overall reason for the credit, but did not have the specifics of how the credit was calculated readily available,” she said.

Johnson said PSE&G determined the amount of the credit according to the New Jersey Administrative Code. Because it had no idea when the meter started to run fast, the customer would receive a credit based on one-half the time the meter was operating at the home while the customer was living there.

Gordon’s meter was at the home for 33 years, Johnson said, so the credit was given for 17 years.

“The usage over 17 years was approximately 26339.324 CCFs and the meter was running 5.59 percent fast. The credit is 5.59 percent of 26339.324, or 1472.368 CCFs which equals $1,423.15,” she said. “The adjustment aligns with the price of gas during the overall time period of the adjustment.”

This time, Gordon was satisfied with the explanation.

“It’s still unbelievable that the meter could be miscalculating for so long,” she said.

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