High estimate lowers estimation

After a ten-minute hold, two transfers, a request for my first name (which apparently is not correctly in the database), two demands for production of documents that I don’t possess, and one demand for a piece of information that the city utility should not possess and that I’m unwilling to confirm, I finally got to ask the questions that prompted the call: why was the electricity usage estimated? why estimated in that (high) amount? if the meter was read again, what was the reading? would it be possible, or worth it, to request an amended bill?

The web site for the city electric utility is captioned “Austin Energy – more than electricity.” And where would the refrigerator and all the food in it be without power? And after all that, the bill will be paid as is, even though it amounts to an advance, since the estimated usage for March is 72 kwh over the average for March in the four years preceding. One bit of information that I succeeded in extracting without giving up in exchange more personal information than I wanted to is that the estimate supposedly is based on the prior month’s consumption. It was more than that. And when the February average use for the four prior complete years was computed, the difference was even greater, at 83 kwh over what’s customary.

This house’s five months of highest consumption (three Septembers and a July and an August) during the four complete years sampled did not ever once exceed 500 kwh and averaged 481 kwh. The regressive nature of Austin utility bills isn’t fair to begin with. Before one drop of water comes from the tap or one kwh of electricity is consumed, there’s already a layer of substantial flat fees that household conservation practices can do nothing to reduce.

Not learned were the following: why the usage was estimated, how the estimate was computed, what the reread amount was a week after the estimate was made, and what a reissued bill would be. The utility offers on-line account information now, but “Customer Care” wants the customer’s Social Security number to set up access. The privacy statement is most interesting.

6 Comments so far

  1. ttrentham (unregistered) on April 12th, 2006 @ 11:56 am

    I’m starting to wonder about this myself. We installed a new A/C unit in December and haven’t been seeing the sort of savings I’d expect (or was sold on) since then. I’m wondering if they’re doing estimates based on my old crappy unit and still using that to compute our consumption. Guess I’ll be making one of those calls myself…as soon as I can get my taxes finished.

  2. M1EK (unregistered) on April 12th, 2006 @ 12:00 pm

    Am I the only one who can’t figure out what the heck you’re talking about here? You seem to be referring to an electrical “estimate” which might have been described in a previous post which I can’t locate.

  3. ttrentham (unregistered) on April 12th, 2006 @ 12:51 pm

    I don’t think it was all that difficult to decipher. M.J.L is questioning her bill from Austin Energy.

    As I understand it, the bill includes some estimating based on past usage. They don’t come read the meter every month. Now, this is all second hand for me and I haven’t investigated it myself yet, but I’m saying that I’ve been expecting to see lower energy bills myself and they haven’t materialized. I’m suspicious too, but I need to take the time to investigate it myself.

  4. Rantor (unregistered) on April 12th, 2006 @ 1:03 pm

    (1) The utility bill for March usage arrived.
    (2) The water meter had been read and the date of the reading appears on the bill; the usage amount employed in computing the electricity bill was marked “estimated.”
    (3) Quick comparison with prior four years’ usage revealed the estimate to be high for March; later comparison (after a telephone call) revealed it to be high in comparison to prior February usage, upon which the very high estimate was allegedly based.
    (4) The call of inquiry to ask four questions elicited demands for customer personal information that it’s unusual to be required to present in any situation.
    (5) The call did elicit general information that the usage estimate was supposedly based on the prior month’s use as well as the fact that a successful reading of the electric meter was accomplished about a week later than the water-meter reading, although not in time to go into the bill; the amount of the week-later reading was not released to the customer.
    (6) The estimate was proportionately high no matter what month’s historical use is being examined.
    (7) The call of inquiry required a large investment of time and returned a low quantity of useful information.
    (8) The resulting customer decision was to pay the estimated bill even though it represents an advance of cash for electricity not used at the time that the bill was prepared.
    (9) The city requires a great deal of information from its customers in return for releasing account information, whether by telephone or on line.

    As to the subject of the privacy of identity information and tying information to Social Security numbers and other personal information, the last time that I dealt with utility “customer service” (when trying to straighten out a situation involving the water meter), the “customer service” people at the utility appeared to have access to NEXIS / LEXIS information about utility customers.

  5. PJ (unregistered) on April 12th, 2006 @ 3:30 pm

    I also noticed an extremely high bill for the month of March! My bill for February was high though my usage was at an all time low. I have long suspected fraud, usery and something VERY fishy going on. Who manages this energy and who gets the proceeds? Doesn’t it seem overly secretive and clandestine?

  6. M1EK (unregistered) on April 12th, 2006 @ 4:17 pm

    I just went and looked at mine (online) – the read dates were 4/4/06 and 3/2/06 – meaning that it was 33 days worth of usage (on the high side for sure). No “estimated” indicator anywhere.

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