Hundreds of electric customers in League City, Galveston, Alvin, and along the gulf coast are getting inaccurate, inflated electric bills. One woman called our KPRC 2 Investigates team when her electric company insisted she pays $2,000 she didn’t owe or get her power shut off.
Electric company estimates some meter reads for months
The Texas Public Utility Commission told Investigator Amy Davis it is aware that Texas New Mexico Power had thousands of meters that were not communicating. These meters were not sending meter readings back to the company so electric companies could properly bill their customers. Because of that, Texas New Mexico Power has been estimating some meter reads for months and grossly overestimating, causing major financial hardships for people like Debbie Walters.
“Food, gas, everything’s more expensive right now so it was a big hit,” said Debbie Walters.
Walters was floored when her October electric bill from Gexa came in at $1,235.80. She called Gexa and got this explanation-
“He told me that they had been estimating the previous months and I had been paying less than I should have for the previous months and that this bill was catching me up for the months that I had underpaid,” explains Walters.
How could so many electric meter reads be wrong?
In League City, Texas New Mexico Power owns all the lines, wires, and electric meters. KPRC 2 Investigates learned that at least 10,000 of the meters relied on AT&T’s 3G network to transmit monthly meter readings back to Texas New Mexico’s offices. When AT&T took the 3G network offline in March of last year, TNMP began estimating meter readings like Walters.
They estimated her meter readings for four consecutive months May, June, July, and August. When the company finally sent a meter reader in September they billed Walters for all the summer months they had underestimated her usage.
Walters paid that bill, but the next one was even more $1,265.
“It was over a thousand dollars and I could not believe my eyes,” she explains.
What happened? Texas New Mexico Power used the previous month’s bill to guesstimate the next one and the one after that. Even though Walters went and snapped a picture of the read-out on her meter to show it was far below the estimate on her bill, Gexa told her she had to pay it.
“This bill isn’t right. I can’t afford to pay this,” she explains. “They kept sending the disconnection notices so I paid it. I didn’t want my power to be turned off.”
When Texas New Mexico Power finally got the next actual read Gexa didn’t refund Walter’s money. They instead credited her account more than $2,100.
“The problem was it was Christmas and I am in the hole an extra $2,000. And that money’s sitting there and I can’t use it.”
Utility companies can’t estimate reads more than three months in a row
The Texas property code says companies like Texas New Mexico Power are not allowed to estimate meter reads more than three months in a row but when we asked the Public Utility Commission what will happen to the company for breaking that rule it told KPRC 2 “the PUC is investigating TNMP’s meter and billing issues and has been in regular contact with TNMP regarding the status of their meter swap.”
“If they don’t have the new meters, they need to pay for people to come out and read the current meters. It’s one or the other. They can’t just keep estimating and guessing what my bill is,” said Walters.
Meters are being slowly replaced
A Texas New Mexico Power spokesperson told KPRC 2 Investigates it did hire contract meter readers to assist in reading meters and that as of last week, the company has less than 600 old 3G meters to replace. They blame supply chain issues for the nearly 12-month delay.
As for Gexa, the company didn’t bother to respond to Amy’s email. But two days after I sent it, it refunded Walters the full $2,100 she paid. The PUC said electric companies are not required to refund money customers paid that they didn’t actually owe. So if you receive a bill you don’t believe you owe- call the p-u-c’s customer protection division to report it before you just pay it.
More information for TNMP customers
PUC customer protection: Https://www.Puc.Texas.Gov/consumer/complaint/complaint.Aspx
Information on TNMP meters: What you need to know about your new meters