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National Grid customer flags errors on automated gas meter

The National Grid gas meter outside Jason Wornstaff's

The National Grid gas meter outside Jason Wornstaff's East Islip home is pictured Saturday, March 26, 2016. Credit: Barry Sloan

Chemical engineer Jason Wornstaff of East Islip makes a practice of checking his National Grid automated gas meter against the “actual” reading on his monthly bill, and last month it paid off.

Wornstaff noticed that the system had recorded 10 units of gas more than his actual usage at the meter on the day both he and the National Grid drive-by meter reader recorded his usage. He estimatede the may have added $8 to $15 to his bill.

Wornstaff reported the problem to the company, which sent a technician out to check the meter. The problem: the new automated meter reading device National Grid has installed on nearly all its Long Island meters had not been properly programmed, Wornstaff said he was told.

Wornstaff said he wonders whether others are facing the same issue.

“I think there is reason for concern from any person that is buying [gas] from National Grid,” he said.

When PSEG Long Island took over management of the LIPA electric grid in 2014, National Grid turned to automated meter reading devices to deal with the loss of hundreds of meter readers who went to work for PSEG. The devices have one-way transmitters to send wireless signals to meter-reading receivers.

National Grid says the roughly 570,000 devices get it right 99.999 percent of the time.

“Given the scale of the rollout of this program, there have been a small percentage of installation errors,” National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd said in a written response to questions. “When we become aware of those issues, we address by testing, and reprogramming the device.” She said AMRs have increased meter-reading rates 25 percent compared with the old the door-to-door system.

Last year, Newsday reported that more than 1,000 customers were overbilled — in some cases by thousands of dollars — because of a programming error. National Grid said it has largely contained that problem.

AMR’s will be expanded to National Grid’s New York City territory.

Asked about Wornstaff’s meter, Ladd said when the device was installed “it was not precisely indexed in line with the actual reading on his meter.” She said while that led to a “slight discrepancy” on the automatic meter reading, after he alerted National Grid to the problem he was billed “only for the usage he actually consumed.”

Ladd said there have been “a few cases” where customers have questioned the accuracy of the meter reading devices, and the company routinely offers to test and reset the meters.

The state Public Service Commission, which has regulatory authority over National Grid, expects meters to perform to exacting standards.

“Pinpoint accuracy of the meters used to bill customers for electric or natural gas service is critically important,” PSC spokesman James Denn said. “Consumers must be completely confident that meters record usage accurately.”

He said the commission requires utilities to test meters for accuracy, “and we hold them accountable to maintain high standards for accuracy. If a meter is found to be inaccurate, the commission requires that the utility issue a refund to the customer.”

Ladd said in addition to the drive-by meter readings, the company sends out technicians daily to check on meter reads, verifying and reprogramming when needed. The company also produces daily reports that note “abnormal” usage by particular customers, which can be caused by an improperly programmed meter.

Wornstaff said he’ll continue to check his meter reading each month, and urged other customers to do the same. “If you don’t take care of you I don’t see anybody else around who is going to,” he said.

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