Utah Ratepayers Association

Education and Lobbying for Ratepayers of Utility-type Services with Limited or No Alternatives

 

Gas Meters

What Caused the Problem?

 


If you are one of the 500 or so Questar Gas customers who have received bills in recent months containing a Correction amount, or if you think you have been overcharged because of remote meter-reading problems over the past ten years, the Utah Ratepayers Association may be able to help.    The sooner you contact us, the more helpful we may be able to be.

Contact details are at the bottom of this page.


What Caused the Problem?

Starting 10 years ago, Questar installed radio transponders so instead of 500 old-fashioned meter-readers, 20 employees can just drive by while devices in their trucks transmit a radio alert and transponders send back meter readings.

Unfortunately, there were avoidable errors.  Transponders could report exactly half the gas used, and a few were installed that way by mistake.  And, before they moved on, the original meter-readers could have continued a bit longer so their visual readings could validate the transpondersí reports.

But it seems nobody thought of that until June 2007, a year or more after the installation project had been completed.  By August, 26,000 meters had been checked, and Questar knew 22 transponders were under-reporting.  In November, new software was installed on the truck devices to check for reporting anomalies.

In about 500 cases, the transponders weren't set correctly, so the readings transmitted to computers in Questar's trucks were only half what they should have been.

 

By February 2008, Questar had billed about 500 customers for up to 24 months-worth of under-billed gas, some for only a few months.  The back-bills ranged from $30 to $7,000, and averaged $1,000, a total of $500,000.

The Company says it has caught all the errors, so no more of its ratepayers need fear getting a Correction on their bills.

Questar says Commission rules allow it to backbill up to 24 months.  Other rules suggest it may only be able to bill up to 6 months, or even 3 months, back. 

 

Some people think under-billed customers should pay up, but others think the utility shouldn't be allowed to bill in arrears at all for what they see as a Company failure. 

Several have said it was hardly their fault that they had been under-billed.  Some were in new homes, others had installed new furnaces, or insulation, or had other reasons to think their bills were reasonable.  If they had received accurate bills all along, they could have trimmed their usage; too late now.

They point to supermarket and gas station owners and managers who donít chase customers into the parking lot or down the street if an item is under-charged at the check-stand or the pump. 

Competition is brutal, and blunders result in losses.  If you raise prices or hound customers, you lose business. 

Questar has been granted a monopoly.  Why should customers pay for its mistakes?

 

And itís even more complicated than most people realize. 

If a transponder can report half a customerís gas usage, can it instead report double? 

Might there also be hundreds of customers who have been billed for twice as much as they actually used? 

Has a small proportion of the transponders installed throughout the past ten years been sending false reports all along? 

What effect has this had on the rates everyone has been paying?

Questar puts what it pays to buy gas on one side of a special account.  On the other goes about 73% of our bill payments.  Thatís for actual gas delivered; the rest is for infrastructure, labor, etc.  As gas costs and revenues rise and fall, the rates we pay are adjusted to balance the account.

If revenues from a few hundred customers are short because of under-metering, rates for all 874,000 Questar customers go up very slightly.  If some are over-billed, rates go down very slightly for all.

 

Don't forget, you can contact the Utah Ratepayers Association to ask for advice and help.  We can't promise anything, but the sooner you contact us, the more helpful we may be able to be.

Contact details are at the bottom of this page.


What the Media are Reporting

Click here to see what the print and broadcast media are reporting:     Media Reports


Contact the Utah Ratepayers Association

Telephone

(801) 998-8511

Electronic Mail

ura@utahratepayers.org

Mailing Address

1375 Vintry Lane, Salt Lake City, Utah 84121



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Last Modified: 13 April 2008