Bill Crookston of Coram knew something was wrong the minute he saw his National Grid gas bill had doubled in September, when his usage is normally at its lowest. Thousands of other customers may be feeling the same sticker shock.
Crookston is on balanced billing, which means his charge is supposed to stay the same every month throughout the year, regardless of his usage, with high-use months such as January offset by low-use months lsuch as September. He already had a credit of $158, he said.
But when he called National Grid to complain, three different employees, including a supervisor, refused to reduce the monthly charge of $276, he said. His balanced bill amount is normally $138. They said if he didn’t pay the double bill, he would be in arrears.
“The message I got was, ‘You better pay that money or there’s going to be a problem,’” he said. “Basically, they’re taking my money and not giving me a choice in taking it.”
Crookston filed a complaint with the state Public Service Commission, which regulates the local gas company. He awaits a resolution, he said. A review is pending.
Wednesday night, National Grid released a statement to Newsday acknowledging the problem.
“We apologize for the inconvenience to our customer,” said spokeswoman Karen Young, adding, “we are following up to adjust the customer’s account.”
Crookston said he was told the problem stemmed from a change of meter-reading zones and billing dates, causing the company’s computer system to bill him for two months instead of one.
Young confirmed the problem resulted from a change to meter-reading routes and a change from walking meter readers to readers in vehicles whose signals are sent electronically from home meters. The effort began with a pilot of the new system involving some 67,000 customers.
“As part of our ongoing efforts to improve efficiencies, we are consolidating our meter-reading routes and changing pedestrian routes to vehicle routes,” Young said. “We began the project this month with a small pilot. We assessed the impact of the change to all customers included in the pilot (67,000) depending on where they fall on the rerouting process/billing cycle and determined that most would not be impacted.”
Those who were affected have been sent letters, she said, adding it amounted to a “small percentage” of customers. Crookston said he was told by a supervisor the number was around 3,000.
“We encourage customers to call if they have questions about their bills and we will review and adjust their accounts as needed,” Young said. “We appreciate our customers’ patience while we make these changes to improve the efficiency of our meter reading.”
Crookston hadn’t received a letter by Thursday afternoon, but he said he did receive a call from another National Grid service representative suggesting that he temporarily stop balanced billing to reset his account. He scoffed at the idea, and at National Grid’s handling of the problem.
“It’s very aggravating,” he said. “They’re the only game in town and whatever they do they’re going to get away with.”