Automated meter reading will end estimated bills

By on January 31, 2013
CPS Energy is working to automate meter reading to reduce estimated bills

For the past several years, CPS Energy has moved to automate its meter reading technology.

The upgrade means meter readers do not have to enter a customer’s property to read the meter; instead they can drive or walk down the street and, using a handheld device, get meter information by radio signal.

These automated meters are not “smart meters,” although CPS Energy will ultimately move to that technology, which allows electronic meters to send readings wirelessly straight to the utility, negating the need to manually read meters all together. A pilot program of 40,000 smart meters has already saved CPS Energy more than $1 million in avoided costs.

The majority of meters are still read manually; roughly 30 percent are automated.

As the transition continues, CPS Energy has allowed its meter reading staff to shrink — through attrition, not layoffs — and has hired contract meter readers to fill the gap. This allows CPS Energy to avoid having to lay off any employees when automation is complete.

But not every one of CPS Energy’s roughly 1.2 million meters are read each month, either manually or through a radio device. Some bills are estimated – often because a reader cannot physically get to the meter, because of a locked gate, dogs, vegetation or bad weather.

Estimating bills is common practice in the energy industry. However, CPS Energy prefers to make actual readings, and company policy is not to estimate more than two months in a row. Of the more than 13 million meter reads that must be done annually, less than 10 percent are estimated. According to a customer service benchmarking study released in October 2012, CPS Energy estimates a smaller percentage of bills than many of its peer utilities.

To determine if a bill has been estimated or read, there will be an “R” or an “E” next to the meter reading under the heading “Meter Read Detail” at the bottom of the bill on the back. Bills are estimated by an algorithm based on prior use. That algorithm often underestimates a bill, which is then trued up once a meter is read; this can result in a higher than usual bill following an estimated bill.

Anyone concerned about a bill is urged to call CPS Energy’s Customer Service at 353-2222.  Learn how to read a CPS Energy bill, how to read an analog meter, and how to read a digital meter. It’s important to note that meters work like odometers, adding usage each month, rather than a dial that resets to zero each month.

If a bill is found to be accurate, CPS Energy can work to create a payment plan. The utility understands that wide bill fluctuations can be difficult for some customers, such as those on a fixed income. One option to even out monthly bills is CPS Energy’s Budget Payment Plan, which calculates a 12-month bill average and bills that amount each month. The bill will show whether use is above or below the estimate each month. (It’s usually above in the summer and below in the winter.)

As automated meters are installed system-wide, estimated bills will become a thing of the past. Meter reading will be safer for employees, less invasive for customers, more accurate and cost effective.

Until then, CPS Energy pledges to keep estimated bills to a minimum, and will work with customers to make sure they’re accurate.

This Post Has 13 Comments
  1. mike2k on said:

    So if my meter is not read, and my bill is over estimated, will I see a credit? And how do you know if you over or under estimated of you have no idea what my meter read on a particular day?

  2. Tracy Idell Hamilton on said:

    hi Mike,

    You would get a credit if your bill is overestimated. In general, bills are underestimated, and then when the meter is read, the following bill is higher to make up the difference — which is understandably a shock. But bottom line is, you won’t ultimately pay for more than you use.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Rebecca on said:

    Contrary to this blog post, I just checked and you have not been out to read my meter since October! After checking my meter, it appears that over four months you’ve overestimated my electric use and I have overpaid you.

  4. Tracy Idell Hamilton on said:

    Hi Rebecca,

    You wouldn’t be able to tell if your meter has been read or estimated (or if it’s automated and so can be read by radio signal) by looking at the meter, but your bill will tell you (see the story, above, for directions).

    If you believe your billing is in error, please send me your account number via email at tihamilton@cpsenergy.com and I will forward it to a senior customer service specialist who will contact you to figure it out.

    If you have indeed been overbilled, you will be credited.

    Thanks for contacting us.

  5. tunahead on said:

    I really wish there was an alternative to CPS, this system is a complete joke. I lived in Austin for 5 years and my bill was my actual bill not some estimate. When I called CPS in regards to this, I was told that I can go read the meter myself to get a more accurate bill. Great, now I get to do CPS’s job too! If there was an alternative I would be done with CPS in a heartbeat… terrible company.

  6. tunahead on said:

    “company policy is not to estimate more than two months in a row”. You obviously don’t follow your own policy, as we just spoke with a CPS rep who told us our meter hadn’t been read since November 1st, 2012, and was read for the first time since then just this past week. That’s a bit longer than 2 months. Glad to see you don’t follow your own policies and can just charge whatever you feel like on a whim.

    • Tracy Idell Hamilton on said:

      hi tunahead,

      That sounds like it’s within policy — it was read on Nov. 1, then estimated 2x (Dec/Jan), then read in February. Regardless, I hear you — no one wants to pay for more than they use, and you won’t. Once the meter is read, what you owe will be adjusted accordingly.

      Also, Austin Energy also estimates bills — it’s a pretty common industry practice. But as CPS Energy moves toward automation, the practice will become far less necessary.

      Thanks for reading,
      t

      • tunahead on said:

        Oh we know it will be adjusted, our bill went from being $55 every month since September, to $200 this month. Thanks for that, makes it a bit difficult to budget! And I’m not sure what you are talking about, but no one I know in Austin who has Austin Energy has their bill estimated, and my bill was never estimated. I also talked to friends in 6 other states with different energy companies, and none of their bills are estimated. So save your PR speech for the sheep.

        • Tracy Idell Hamilton on said:

          Try Googling “estimated utility bills.” It’s not a new practice, and it’s not unique to CPS Energy. We don’t like to do it, we’re trying to do it less, and it does suck to be hit with a high bill all of a sudden. But we can help you with a payment plan for that higher bill. If you’d like to send me your account number directly, I can have a customer service specialist contact you to do just that. tihamilton@cpsenergy.com

  7. Tracy Idell Hamilton on said:

    hi Maria,

    Bills are being delayed because of estimated billing issues — they’re being flagged and double checked to make sure they’re accurate. You should be getting a bill, plus a letter from CPS Energy apologizing and with a special customer service number. If you’d like to send me your account info directly, email me at tihamilton@cpsenergy.com and I can get you in touch with someone from the new team created to deal with this.

  8. Jessica on said:

    So the reason my bill jumped from 150 to 356 for the last 3 months is because of…….? It’s pretty frustrating suddenly looking at my bill and realizing I am having to pay essentially another car note…in an 1800 square foot house for God’s sake!

    And another thing, customer service goes a LONG way when you’re reaming your customers for all of their money…

    • Tracy Idell Hamilton on said:

      hi Jessica,

      I agree, customer service is important, and I apologize if you got bad service. We are still having issues from the estimated billing snafu of a few months ago. You can read more about that here: http://blog.cpsenergy.com/cps-energy-billing-problems/

      But, and more important to you, I’m guessing, is trying to understand your bill. Most people’s bills go up in the summer; your AC has to run much longer/harder to keep your home cool the hotter it is outside. But if you think the increase is not due to normal summer use, I’m happy to have a customer service rep call you directly to investigate. If so just email me your acct. # and phone # to tihamilton@cpsenergy.com

      thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © 2013, CPS Energy. All rights reserved.