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Can an electrical meter be defective enough to double and triple your bill?

maricha's picture

Hi Forum Members, I hope you can help me at least understand what happened even if it can't be corrected. I know this is a very long post and I'm sorry for that, but I'm not sure how to shorten it without taking up more of your time in having to ask me questions about what I leave out.

So here goes:

I moved into a duplex unit (720 square feet) with its own electric meter (the old magnetic type) and at the time I did I was told by the electricity provider that my bill would be roughly 1200$ per year (this includes regular use of electricity plus heating with floorboards) . Seeing as this was the normal amount for duplex units of the same size with even more occupants (I checked by enquiring about comsumption at different addresses in the duplex, along the street, and elsewhere) I moved in.

The move took place in December and the first bill was sent after 2 months in February. Right then the amount was almost twice what I expected, I called the electrical company and even their employee thought it was high but she explained to me that this must mean the summer bills were exceptionally low and so it would all balance out. That never happened. Even though I don't have an AC or other energy hog the bills were always twice what they should be every time, both in summer and winter.I repeatedly tried to get the company to come check their meter but I got a song and dance about there not being employees who did that sort of thing. When I asked if I could pay an electrician to do it they said I was free to hire an electrician to check out my installation but that it wouldn't mean anything to them since he wasn't allowed to check out their meter. I couldn't get them to budge and I was too busy with work and school to start the process to take them to the energy board which I knew nothing about, so I just paid the inflated bills.

In case you were wondering, I had bought a product similar to the Kill-a-Watt and checked all my appliances over and over to see if there was a problem there and the floorboards had just been installed by a master electrician. By my calculations there just weren't enough appliances working for enough hours to account for anything more than 1200$ worth of electricity and you'll later see I was right.Since I already knew my appliances were working just fine I didn't see the point in hiring an electrician if they wouldn't refund me no matter what he discovered because of the Catch-22 that he couldn't check their meter and thus prove it was the culprit.

 

(You may be saying to yourself but you can't check the baseboards with a Kill-a-Watt, maybe that was the trouble. I thought of that, but the bills were also twice or more what they should be in the summer when the power to the baseboards was shut off at the source and as you'll see they weren't at fault. Also, I weatherproof my home the same way every year although the first winter I couldn't do as good a job as the next 2 because it was already too cold for some of the stripping to stick perfectly. Still, that first winter was the least expensive of the three I went through until I got a new meter so you can draw your own conclusion about that.)

After a little over 2 years of this I finally had the time to take care of this so I threatened them with the energy board and they finally came over to change the meter to a smart meter. Low and behold, though not a thing had changed besides the meter my bills, which had been up to that very day creeping up to being 3600$ a year if I had kept the old meter(3 times what I'd been quoted originally), instantly dropped down to a level that gave me a 1200$ annual bill. Anyone would consider that proof that the meter had been the problem but the electrical company is denying it.

I was right there when the technician and his supervisor changed the meter and know they carried no test of any kind before changing it but the company says that a test was carried out and my meter was working normally and refuse to believe that I didn't see their employees do a thing besides check that the had the right meter number, shut it off, and put the new one in. I was shoulder to shoulder with the one who shut off the meter from the second he was in front of it-while it was still on-until it was turned off and I watched the tech remove the meter and put the new one on- a process that took all of two minutes maximum since he was already suited up. They say the old meter has been tossed and they never checked it back at their facilities. (Not that I have any idea what they could test for once it was disconnected, but still...).

Now it's almost 18 months later, the new meter works like a dream and this is the second winter I am going through with the bills being exactly as they should have been. My hearing with the energy board is finally coming up. I went through with my threat to go there because I didn't want the electrical company to get away Scot free with their shabby customer service and the extra money they got from me because of it. I may not get my money but I do want there to be a record of this somewhere for future customers and consumer protection groups. Around the time they changed my meter I also discovered that their employees had been lying to me all along and they did have technicians who could have come over to check how the meter was working.

Oh, and by the way, the company informed me that employee who handed in the results of the test they say they carried out was laid off soon after they changed my meter ( they say they wanted to cut costs)so I have no idea how to confront him or contest what happened when he was at my house at the hearing.

I'm feeling like I was robbed in broad daylight but I know that I'm no expert on electicity or meters so I'm wondering what you, unbiased people with an understanding of this technology, think of this? Is there any reasonable explanation other than the meter being defective? What test could they have carried out that I wouldn't have seen happen if it was done right under my nose? I know meters are supposed to slow down, not speed up, as they age but do you know where I could find statistics on the failure rate or precision of these things because I've looked high and low and can't find any. What evidence is there that meters work as perfectly as the electrical company says they do?

 

Thank-you for reading this and for any insight you have to give me.

No answer from me, but thanks (post #207420, reply #1 of 177)

No answer from me, but thanks for a very interesting story, and I hope you get a refund. If not, at least you got the problem fixed.

Thanks (post #207420, reply #3 of 177)

rdesigns wrote:

No answer from me, but thanks for a very interesting story, and I hope you get a refund. If not, at least you got the problem fixed.

Thank-you. At least the extra billing is over.

In Minnesota, when a meter is (post #207420, reply #2 of 177)

In Minnesota, when a meter is removed for such cause it must be tested by a certified lab, and you're required to be reimbursed for the last several years, based on the amount it was off.

But of course in this case it may simply have been that the wrong multiplier was entered in the record system, and the meter was fine.


Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

Thank-you (post #207420, reply #4 of 177)

DanH wrote:

In Minnesota, when a meter is removed for such cause it must be tested by a certified lab, and you're required to be reimbursed for the last several years, based on the amount it was off.

But of course in this case it may simply have been that the wrong multiplier was entered in the record system, and the meter was fine.

Thank-you. It's interesting to hear about this policy in Minnesota, it seems outrageous to me that we don't have a similar rule in Quebec where I live. Then again, for all I know we do have this rule and the company is pretending there isn't because they didn't bother to do it. It's something  worth checking up on.

I really have no idea what multiplier was used other than in billing. No one came to test or set the meter while I've lived here

The multiplier is a number (post #207420, reply #5 of 177)

The multiplier is a number that relates to the size of the "shunt" resistor on the meter.  The shunt resistor scales the reading -- effectively makes the meter turn only half (or 1/10 or whatever) as far for a given amount of electricity. 

Generally there should be a tag on the meter face stating what the multiplier is (if there is one), but the tag can be wrong (because someone changed shunts without changing the tag) or it can be entered incorrectly into the billing system.  (The multiplier would be entered only once, when the meter is installed, not every time the meter is read.)

Of course, the other possibility that came to mind when you described your problem was that your electricity was being stolen by another unit (or by the building owner).  This is not at all uncommon.  But if this were the case your readings would not have changed with the replacement (unless the building owner got wind of the upcoming meter change and removed the jumpers he'd put in place, to avoid detection).


Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

Thanks and no tampering that I could detect (post #207420, reply #7 of 177)

DanH wrote:

The multiplier is a number that relates to the size of the "shunt" resistor on the meter.  The shunt resistor scales the reading -- effectively makes the meter turn only half (or 1/10 or whatever) as far for a given amount of electricity. 

Generally there should be a tag on the meter face stating what the multiplier is (if there is one), but the tag can be wrong (because someone changed shunts without changing the tag) or it can be entered incorrectly into the billing system.  (The multiplier would be entered only once, when the meter is installed, not every time the meter is read.)

Of course, the other possibility that came to mind when you described your problem was that your electricity was being stolen by another unit (or by the building owner).  This is not at all uncommon.  But if this were the case your readings would not have changed with the replacement (unless the building owner got wind of the upcoming meter change and removed the jumpers he'd put in place, to avoid detection).

 

Thanks for the explanation.I don't remember what was on the old meter's tag though.

I had thought of the possibility of someone stealing my electricity either on purpose or unwittingly (due to faulty wiring) but it couldn't be the landlord since he doesn't live in the units and only bought the building 6 months before we moved in.

Also every unit has a meter in its own separate storage area at the back of the house and no one, not even the landlord can go there without us since we have the only key to it.

I suppose someone could tamper with the wiring but all the wires leading to the meter are exposed at the back of the buliding  so I'm not sure how someone could splice their wiring onto mine and be undetected by the landlord if he ever went over to see their units and a master electrician installed the baseboard heating not long before I moved in and I don't see how he could miss faulty wiring or something fishy going on without reporting or fixing it.

Another thing not making me think that is that when testing my appliances and the meter, I  shut all the switches at my breaker and the meter stopped completely and as I flicked the switches on the various parts of the house or appliances they were connected to turned on. When I do this with the new meter I can even figure out precisely how much electricity various appliances use and it's always been what I expected right from the start.

Add to this that all my neighbors were out and my landlord was on summer holiday when the new meter was installed so no one got wind that anything was different yet everything changed instantly. Right from the first day, the readings of the new meter were consistant with the amount of electricity I had calculated that I was using whereas they were so much higher with the old meter that it was as if I went from using over 4 dollars worth of electricity a day on June 1st to using less than 75 cents worth the next day  without anything changing. (The heating had been off for months and only basic things such as the lights and cooking range were on.) In fact, it's this night and day difference happening in the summer that I consider the most definitve proof that the old meter was off since I could never be absolutely certain in the winter that the high winter bills weren't just due to me using more electricity to heat than I thought since I couldn't test the baseboards separately.

In the summer, there was never any doubt of exactly how much electricity I knew I was using versus what the old meter was reporting. The new meter's readings being exactly what I expected confirmed I was right to doubt the old one.

In my limited experience (post #207420, reply #6 of 177)

the mechanical meters are more likely to run slow than fast. If there's any drag on the mechanism as it turns, it will rotate more slowly and clock less usage. Needless to say there are plenty of internet sites that will tell you how to put some drag on your meter. 

It doesn't sound like someone was stealing power from you if the usage dropped immediately with the new meter.

Why don't you take your case to the energy board at this point?

I have seen a few meters tested (because people didn't trust their new digital meter, since their usage went up after their mechanical meter was replaced). Here's what that looks like when it's done in the field.

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Thanks, yes I'm going to the energy board over this (post #207420, reply #8 of 177)

davidmeiland wrote:

the mechanical meters are more likely to run slow than fast. If there's any drag on the mechanism as it turns, it will rotate more slowly and clock less usage. Needless to say there are plenty of internet sites that will tell you how to put some drag on your meter. 

It doesn't sound like someone was stealing power from you if the usage dropped immediately with the new meter.

Why don't you take your case to the energy board at this point?

I have seen a few meters tested (because people didn't trust their new digital meter, since their usage went up after their mechanical meter was replaced). Here's what that looks like when it's done in the field.

Thank-you. I do keep reading about mechanical meters only slowing down with age but I have no idea how old my meter was. It looked quite new although since it's in a covered storage area there's not much that could age it. I wonder if it was new and simply badly installed or set at any rate, yes, I'm definitely taking this to the energy board.

I can't think of any other business relation where you aren't told anything about a product (not it's age, number, manufacturer, when or if it passed quality control) but you're expected to blindly pay whatever you're told you owe, can't force the owner of the product to come check out his product until he feels like it and then he can say it's fine and you have to take his word for it. This is ludicrous and seems like it leaves customers open to always get the short end of the stick. If I can't get this righted for me I still definitely want things to change for others.

When a customer complains about the accuracy of a meter for such a long time, it seems to me that the meter should be seriously tested and not just replaced.

Meters (post #207420, reply #9 of 177)

Surely there is some testing standard in Canada.  They may vary somewhat from province to province, but I would think that overall there must be some uniformity.  

I work for a utility company and we must meet some pretty rigid regulations for meter testing.  No meter is ever pulled and just thrown away without testing.  That would be a red flag for the Public Service Commission auditors, that would invite closer scruteny immediately.

If you have record of usage for you high billing period and at least six months of usage with the new meter in place I would think that would be proof enough for your energy commission to act on.

When we get a complaint such as yours wereplace the questionable meter with a recording type meter.  It will produce a minute by minute record of usage for a two week period.  Most of the time that record is very informative to the customer, revealing personal usge habits they didn't even know they had.  In your case it sounds like it would have revealed a faulty meter very early on.

I don't live in the service area of the company I work for, but had an issue with lights dimming every time the HVAC system came on.  The utility company I get my service from was not very resposive to my complaint, so I ask one of my company officers about it.  He snuck a recorder on my service and tracked usage for a week.  Not really legal since it was not in his service area, but it did show that I was experiencing a pretty significant voltage drop when a large load was applied to the service.  Armed with that information it was pretty straight forward to convince my service provider that they had an issue with either the whole circute I'm on or my transformer.  Ended up being a faulty set of line capacitors.  I wasn't the only customer that had complaints but the REC didn't see us as a significant enough number to warrent an investigation.  That is not the way they are suppose to do things and they knew it, but with thier cost effective way of doing business  drove them to make a bad decision in my case.  I didn't take it to the Public Service Commission, but they knew I could and corrected the problem.

The last thing most utility companies want is to be put under the magnifying glass of the regulating authority.  Not that they are deliberately doing wrong, but there is a large manpower cost associated with audtis and complaint resolutions they don't want.

 

I wish that's how they did business here (post #207420, reply #11 of 177)

Thanks for your answer.

I'm happy to find out that not all utility companies treat their customers any way they want to and suspect things may be different in other provinces but, in mine, we really seem to be at their mercy. Everyone, from ordinary citizens, to the electric company's  employees, to the lawyer the energy board provided us with to come to an amicable settlment tells me that it's unheard of for the energy board to side with a consumer even when there have been huge discrepancies. It's as if we existed in a vacuum where there are no independant labs or testers to verify meters.The utility's representative didn't make the slightest effort to listen to my points while we 'negotiated' because it's a foregone conclusion that he'll win at the hearing no matter what I say.

I do believe there are standards for meters but as far as I know the employees of the electric company, and no one else, have the last word on whether the meter worked or not. If they claim it did, the board sides with them no questions asked. They aren't going to be audited over this as far as I know since the energy board will rubber stamp whatever happened no matter what I say.

I know that I'm not likely to get even a partial refund but as I said I want a record of this to exist because my next step after losing will be to pressure our consumer protection agency to demand that we get the same sort of right to have meters tested by neutral labs or testers and bills reviewed. The other cases presented to me in the jurisprudence showed consumers who could only point to differences in billing but hadn't been able to show what they knew they were consuming because products like the Kill-a-Watt didn't exist or weren't known to them. In my case, the tests I carried out and mailed the results of to the utility before I knew what the new meter would state prove that I did know what I was consuming all along. If and when I lose there will be no doubt that it's because the energy board is biased since my evidence was more reliable than anything the utility offered as is proven by the new meter.

You probably didn't know it (post #207420, reply #10 of 177)

but you could have connected your own metering device to your electrical panel and measured the amount of power used, over a period of time. A device like the TED would have given you a reading to compare to the utility meter. It's not "revenue grade" but still quite accurate.

Another thing to do is to turn off everything in the house (probably by flipping the main breaker). Verify that the meter stops moving. Then, turn on a breaker or two, connect a known load, like a couple of 1500-watt electric heaters, and watch the meter move. If you've got a 3 kilowatt load (and nothing else) on, the meter should record 3 KwH in an hour. It helps to have a way of measuring the actual load (a 1500-watt heater may not use exactly that amount) but this can really help determine if there's an accuracy problem.

Didn't use TED but did the appliance test (post #207420, reply #12 of 177)

Thanks for the information. I did hear about TED but I didn't pursue that option because the employees made it clear that whatever my electrician reported they would ignore and as I was already way over budget because of how high the bills were I didn't want to add an electrician's bill for hundreds of dollars since it wouldn't be reimbursed or force them to come do something about their meter.

I did do the breaker shut off test you mentioned with my clothes dryer on two separate summer days where everything else was shut off and the old meter indicated that I was using twice what the manufacturer stated their appliance used. However, it wasn't until I had the new meter which indicates that the dryer is actually using exactly what it's supposed to, and not the inflated number the old meter stated, that I could be sure it wasn't the appliance that was at fault. But, again it's my word against the utility company's on that.

The bottom line is that the fact that they can't be forced to come check their meter unless they want to and that no one else is authorized to makes contesting their bills virtually impossible. Basically, if you're tired of over-paying, it's easier to move than get them to send an employee over. I know this sounds unbelievable but that's how it seems to be.

Consumer media support (post #207420, reply #13 of 177)

Maybe you could contact Market Place, or W5 and see if they might be interested in your story. I'm sure there are other media outlets in Quebec that do the same kind of fraud buster, or fight for consumer rights type of program at te local, or provincial level.


Instead of always using the dollar amount how about refering to the actual comsumption numbers. So much of the billed amount is base fees, or transmission charges, meter charges, infrastructure charges, etc., which should be independent of consumption, or KwH used. How do the actual KwH used compare before and after? Even here in SK, with our monopoly in the crown corp. utility, I've always had good customer service, but everyones experience will vary. It is too bad that pursueing the matter through the courts would be so costly and risky, but maybe small claims would be an option.

What is the total possible consumption of every device in the home, and how does that compare to actual consumption? If it is not possible to use all the electricity they charged you for, you'd think that would be helpful. it might take some professional help to determine that info. Good luck.

Good Idea & My usage in kiloWatt hours (post #207420, reply #15 of 177)

fwmal wrote:

Maybe you could contact Market Place, or W5 and see if they might be interested in your story. I'm sure there are other media outlets in Quebec that do the same kind of fraud buster, or fight for consumer rights type of program at te local, or provincial level.


Instead of always using the dollar amount how about refering to the actual comsumption numbers. So much of the billed amount is base fees, or transmission charges, meter charges, infrastructure charges, etc., which should be independent of consumption, or KwH used. How do the actual KwH used compare before and after? Even here in SK, with our monopoly in the crown corp. utility, I've always had good customer service, but everyones experience will vary. It is too bad that pursueing the matter through the courts would be so costly and risky, but maybe small claims would be an option.

What is the total possible consumption of every device in the home, and how does that compare to actual consumption? If it is not possible to use all the electricity they charged you for, you'd think that would be helpful. it might take some professional help to determine that info. Good luck.

Hi and Thank-you for answering my post. The more I see how consumers in other jurisdictions are better treated the more I think you're right that this might interest a consumer defense show too.

I've used dollar amounts here because it seemed easier to explain but in the documents I sent to the utility to try to get them to come check this I did go by watts used.

 

This is what the OLD METER was stating compared to what I calculated (being in parentheses). My meter was replaced in mid-2011.

 

2009                            = 22 240 kWh vs. (14 520 kWh)

2010                            = 33 470 kWh vs. (13 990 kWh)

2011-1st half  of year = 18 440 kWh vs. ( 8 600 kWh)

 

This is what the NEW METER's statements were compared to what I calculated (being in parentheses).

 

2011-2nd half  of year= 6 970 kWh vs. ( 7 050 kWh)

2012                             = 19 150 kWh vs. ( 18 900 kWh)

 

(By the way,my electrical consumption grew in 2012 because I used a space heater about 4 hours a day in one of the bedrooms whereas I never did that the other years. Still, even now that I use a space heater pretty much every winter day, I haven't used as much electricity as the old meter stated at it's lowest full year of 22 240 kWh in 2009 when I didn't.)

With the old meter the difference between what I know I was using and what the meter was stating was huge right from the start and getting bigger all the time but as soon as the new meter was in place the difference disappeared.

Don't back down! (post #207420, reply #14 of 177)

From what you say its pretty obvious that the power company has basically stolen several thousand dollars from you. It doesn't matter whetther the meter went bad or they used the wrong multiplier or whatever. The bottom line is that your bills were triple what they should have been until the meter was changed. Fight like hell to get your money back, starting with the "energy board". A little media exposure might not hurt either. In NYC the TV stations have consumer issues departments. "7 on Your Side" is one. Might be something like it in your area.

I'm definitely not giving up (post #207420, reply #16 of 177)

danfast wrote:

From what you say its pretty obvious that the power company has basically stolen several thousand dollars from you. It doesn't matter whetther the meter went bad or they used the wrong multiplier or whatever. The bottom line is that your bills were triple what they should have been until the meter was changed. Fight like hell to get your money back, starting with the "energy board". A little media exposure might not hurt either. In NYC the TV stations have consumer issues departments. "7 on Your Side" is one. Might be something like it in your area.

Thank-you for answering my post. I definitely am not backing down and even if I lose before the energy board (as everyone tells me I will) there's no way that I'm letting this policy of having the utility be all powerful in our business contracts stand. I can't believe they can not only refuse to come check the accuracy of their meter but that they don't even have to submit any of this to a neutral party at any point. They've been in hot water with the media before but it wasn't even for anything this obviously unfair so it would be a good idea to discuss this.

The most infuriating thing about the meter being defective is that we have a tiered payment rate. Up to 30 kWh per day you pay a lower rate and past that the rate is 1.5 times the lower rate so that the old meter had me paying this higher rate year-round which is what eventually drove the bill up to 3 times what was expected. Even by using a generous error margin I'm sure I've overpaid at least 3000$ in the 30 months it took them to listen to me and come replace their meter.