Customers Question Atmos Energy's Estimated Billing Practices

The NBC 5 Responds team continues to look into reports of high Atmos Energy bills.

We've heard from dozens of Atoms Energy customers who said their bills have skyrocketed.

Atmos points to the cold weather we had earlier this year as the culprit, but many customers are convinced that Atmos' estimated billing system is to blame.

One viewer told us, "My bill was $500 and something last month. I never pay that kind of bill, and then I already got a bill for this month and it's another $500 and something dollars."

Another viewer said, "I have lived in my house in North Denton for 26 months now. The highest my bill has ever been previously was $77 (last month). This month my bill is $307, almost exactly quadruple what my bill was last month.

Ashley Hine of Fort Worth said her energy bill nearly tripled. She believes Atmos' billing practices are creating a lot of confusion.

"It's like nothing is making sense between these estimated and actual readings," she said.

On the back of each Atmos Energy bill, customers will either see "estimated" usage or "actual" usage.

Atmos told us estimations "are based on prior usage history for that account... Estimated readings can be higher or lower than actual usage. However, bills self-correct when the meter is read, ensuring a customer never pays for more energy than actually used."

But Hine said the estimations leave too much room for error.

Energy expert Bruce Bullock told us that estimated meter readings have lead to some volatility among consumers. But, he said the practice is not uncommon and believes there's a number of reasons why gas companies like Atmos don't do actual meter reads every month.

"One is manpower, in a sense that if they put that many meter readers out there, it's ultimately the rate payer that's going to end of paying," Bullock explained.

Atmos said its meter readers are on a rotation system and there is never a month that all of its customers' bills are estimated.

Bullock believes the idea of having a meter reader come to every home, every month, is not realistic, but he said there is good news. "Technology is slowly but surely making that a thing of the past," Bullock said.

He said smart meters have made things easier for both utility companies and consumers.

"On the electricity side, for instance, most North Texans have smart meters, which can be read remotely," he said.

Bullock told us that gas companies are further behind on these devices, but they are making progress.

Atmos told us in North Texas, 127,000 customers have wireless meter reading devices, including residents affected by its planned outage in northwest Dallas.

These devices allow the meter to be read electronically.

As the company continues to install more smart meters, Bullock believes the practice of estimated billing will be a thing of the past.

In the meantime, customers are encouraged to contact Atmos to have a meter reader come out if they have billing concerns (CLICK HERE).

You can file a complaint with the Texas Railroad commission, which oversees gas companies (CLICK HERE). 

If you're struggling to pay your energy bill, CLICK HERE for a list of resources.

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