Unclassified Info: A tamer approach to meter complaints

Ever since I began writing about the Glendale Water & Power smart meters, I have received letters from fellow citizens who are likewise frustrated and curious as to the exact reasons why their utility bills have gone up.

I count myself among those individuals, although to say I’m surprised that my bill went up after the meter was installed could hardly be described as leaving a curious taste in my mouth. I’d describe it more like expected resignation with subtle notes of chocolate and “what the heck”!

I suppose there was a small part of me that hoped against all odds that the change was not going to affect me negatively. But cynical me — the one who feels perpetually squeezed by everything and anything that can wiggle its greedy hand in my pocket — could anticipate the impending rate hike with as much certainty as the lousy reception on my iPhone.

Our first utility bill under the new smart water regime was nearly $150 higher than any previous bill I have in my file folder, dating back to 2008. Of course, my own proverbial sticker shock is nothing compared to Dorothy Tifft, another Glendale resident who let me know that when she opened her latest utility bill, it showed her owing $2,782.42!

Note to self: Stop complaining about a $150 price hike.

This is not the first bill that has made Tifft’s eyes pop out of her head. Her June bill was $1,724.59. According to Tifft, her bill averaged less than 10% of these current amounts before the installation of her smart meter.

Not surprisingly, no one seems to be coming out of the woodwork with bills that have decreased as dramatically. But I wouldn’t expect someone to willingly come forward if their utility bill went from $200 down to $7.

I asked Glenn Steiger, general manager of Glendale Water & Power, how some of these new smart meters can be so out of whack? And if they are the way of the future, why are they prone to such large errors?

In response to my query, Steiger wrote, “As with any large project, there are going to be some ‘start-up’ issues … at this point, we have had less than 100 discrepancies with the readings and data collection associated with this installation … I apologize to those customers who have experienced billing issues; we fully expect that any data collection irregularities will be rectified within the next month.”

As far as higher usage readings, which translate to higher bills, Steiger responded by saying: “This is a direct result of replacing meters that, in some cases, are more than 40 years old. Over time, water meters tend to slow down and produce lower (inaccurate) readings than are reflective of the actual use. As we replace these meters, actual (highly accurate) usage is metered and transmitted. In some cases, this produces a higher usage reading than the customer had previously been receiving. This is the correct reading.”

Perhaps in most cases the meters are reading and working correctly. But clearly, in instances like those occurring to people like Dorothy Tifft, there is a problem.

Tifft did get back to me and let me know Glendale Water & Power reconciled both her bills, which supports Steiger’s assertion that the utility company knows there are some hiccups and is trying to rectify them.

For the record, I’m not claiming our meter is inaccurate. The smart meter might detect water and electricity usage more accurately, and the problem could very well be that I need to audit our energy and water consumption and alter some habits to make my house more energy efficient.

Until I do that, I don’t think it’s completely fair to negatively comment on my own rising bill, even though the great big conspiracy theorist in me would love to ramble on ad nauseum over the matter.

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is currently working on his second novel and the second half of his life. Gary may be reached at gh@garyhuerta.com.

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