The Great and Mighty Oz, a/k/a CenterPointlandia

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A little while ago we received a letter at our home warning us that CenterPoint Energy was thinking about disconnecting our service. Our offense was not an unpaid bill – it was that our meter had become inaccessible. Not only could we be disconnected, we’d have to pay for the re-hook-up.

Our options as outlined were to:

1. “Provide easy, safe access to your meter. Unlock the gate or house/secure your pet.” Well, we do have pets, but the dogs are in the house or inside the fenced back yard. The meter is in the front (and unfenced) portion of the house.

2. Request an electronic remote read device at a cost of $180 to us. This would allow them to take a reading without entering the back yard. Again, our meter is on the front side of the house.

3. Relocate your meter. They would actually do it. (whew). We would pay for it. (Not so whew.)

While we were left to muse these options, the letter told us we were being placed on a postcard read-your-own meter program. But, it warned, this “does not provide a long term solution” according to Texas Railroad Commission rules requiring an actual reading every six months.

All my husband could figure out was that CenterPoint must have a new employee who just didn’t understand where the meter was. This was perfectly understandable given that a few years ago another meter reader assumed the meter was in the back yard, burst through the gate (I happened to be gardening there at the time) and encountered our dog Sadie, a Spitz-Pomerian mix who’s not good about surprises. That guy not only jumped our fence into the neighbor’s yard. He jumped the next one, too.

But we got that sorted out and there haven’t been any other mix-ups in the 11 years Centerpoint’s been reading the meter at our house -- and the five years before that with the previous owner. And honest, we never moved the meter.

So I called CenterPoint to see if I could meet up with the new meter reader and show him or her where the meter was and was greeted with this general voice mail message:

Thank you for calling CenterPoint Energy. If you have received a letter in the mail indicating that your natural gas meter is inaccessible and you have been placed on our postcard program, please disregard this letter. Due to Hurricane Ike your natural gas meter reading was estimated for two consecutive months which automatically generated the letter. CenterPoint will obtain an actual meter reading at the next meter reading cycle and when the actual meter reading is received you will be removed from the postcard program. We apologize for this inconvenience and thank you for your cooperation.

A call to CenterPoint elicited the information that as of November 3, 175,000 of its customers were sent the inaccessible meter notice. They were checking to see if anything had changed since then and we’ll update if it did.

Margaret Downing

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