Houston – The Texas Public Utility Commission is fining Texas New Mexico Power $1.7 million dollars for its failure to upgrade its electric meters before the 3G network it relied on was taken down.
KPRC 2 Investigates has reported the problems caused by the outdated meters for months. Because the meters could no longer transmit the meter readings to TNMP, the electric company was estimating how much electricity customers were using for months.
The practice resulted in inaccurate electric bills for thousands of customers in the Alvin, Clear Lake, and Galveston areas where Texas New Mexico Power owns the electric infrastructure.
According to the PUC report filed March 8, 2023, “AT&T informed the TDU (Texas New Mexico Power)on February 21, 2019, that it would discontinue operating its 3G network, effective February 2022. Despite knowing for more than 18 months that the backbone of its AMS system would be decommissioned in three years’ time, TNMP did not apply to the Commission for approval of a new AMS deployment plan that would solve the impending network discontinuance until October 2, 2020.”
The PUC approved the plan. The rollout of more than 170,000 new meters was scheduled to begin in April 2021 and conclude by October 2022. However, TNMP contends that the meter vendor notified them in July 2021 that the vendor was experiencing supply chain constraints related to the COVID-19 pandemic, so delivery of the meters would be delayed.
Report details how customers were overcharged for 3+ months
According to the PUC report, “TNMP did not execute a mitigation strategy until February 2022.” This meant TNMP had to estimate usage on the meters. The PUC said because TNMP “failed to secure the necessary resources to conduct manual meter reads for so many non-communicating meters, estimations for many customers extended for many customers extended for periods greater than three months. State rules ban electric utilities like TNMP and CenterPoint Energy from estimating meter reads for more than 3 consecutive months. TNMP violated that rule.
“Ultimately, from January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022, TNMP estimated readings of 17,474 meters for more than three consecutive months,” read the PUC filing on the issue
Customers overcharged for electricity
Customers like Debbie Walters in League City were charged thousands of dollars for electricity. When she requested TNMP come and manually read her meter before her bill was due, TNMP representatives refused to speak with her. Her electric company GEXA received the wrong meter readings from TNMP and insisted that she pay the erroneous bill and wait to be reimbursed later. She did that; but when TNMP actually read her meter months later, GEXA issued Walters a credit instead of a refund.
TNMP has 20 days to accept the $1.7 million fine or request a hearing to appeal it. The PUC says the administrative penalty of $1,747,400 is approximately $100 for each affected customer.
Meanwhile, the PUC says, to date, TNMP has installed 186,409 new advanced meters and 1.931 meters remain to be swapped.