The curious case of the broken-not-broken gas meter | A New Shade of Green | Sherry Listgarten

Every month I send Palo Alto Utilities a photo of my gas and electric meters and they bill me a few days later. (1) This worked well up until this year.

In February my bill showed no gas and electricity consumption. I sent the utility company a note along with the meter photos. I wanted them to correct the bill so they weren’t aggregating two months of usage in the March bill, which would mean more of my usage would be billed at Tier 2 rates.

Here is the picture of the gas meter I sent in.

I didn’t hear anything so I messaged the utility again a few weeks later.

Two days later the utility responded and said that as we are approaching the next billing cycle they would then simply make any necessary adjustments. I clarified the point about the Tier 2 charges again and they backed down while also claiming that the photo of my gas meter was actually a photo of a water meter. huh?

I replied and a few days later the billing was corrected.

Well that would have been, except now I suspect the zero note was intentional. They didn’t believe the gas meter reading – it was too low – and wanted to confirm it the following month. You can see how much lower it was this year than last year because I electrified my heat in November.

I came to this realization because something similar happened again last week.

A few days ago I received an invoice stating that I used 12 Thermen gas in July. But since I replaced my gas water heater with a heat pump water heater in May, my consumption is much lower, maybe 1 therm per month. That equates to about 10 hours a month on the gas stove (my only remaining gas appliance), which seems about right since I don’t cook much in the summer.

So I checked the photo of the meter I sent in and they misread it. I sent them a note and the meter photo.

They said they would send out a meter reader to confirm the reading.

OK. I asked when that would happen so I could unlock the gate.

The next morning, before I could reply, I saw a van pull up and park in front of my house. I said hello and asked if he was there to take the meter. He said no, he was there to replace the meter. I wasn’t expecting that, but good. I thought he would read the old meter first to confirm the reading. I messaged the utility company with the update hoping they could fix the bill.

Apparently no, the problem seems to be that I am actually using gas and the old meter just wasn’t recording it properly.


I am not sure what will happen now. Will they fix my bill like I requested? Do I have to pay for a phantom gas water heater? The old meter is gone and the new meter is up…. Zero.

That blew my mind. Is Palo Alto so unprepared that houses are actually starting to electrify that they can’t tell when they see it? Despite existing electrification permits?

My conclusion: I hope that smart meters will eliminate some of this confusion. And I hope that low gas consumption in our homes will become so commonplace that the utility company will figure out how to deal with it without replacing perfectly good meters. But I also recognize that one in six households is behind on their utility bills, and that may be one reason Palo Alto Utilities is being extra cautious. So I really can’t complain. And I now have a nice, easier to read meter that I expect to continue running very slowly until I replace my oven. But for those of you who are electrifying – and I hope there are many of you – my advice is to check your bills a little more carefully than usual.

Notes and references
1. The meter reader won’t come by because I keep my gates locked because of my dog ​​and to prevent theft.

Current climate data (July 2022)
Global Impact, US Impact, Carbon Metric, Climate Dashboard

Over 16% of light commercial vehicles sold in California this year were plug-in or fuel cell (hydrogen) vehicles, up from 12% last year and 8% a year ago. That’s great progress!

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