Estimated v. Actual Meter Readings
When it comes to paying utility bills, customers generally like to pay what they owe - no more and no less. Some customers become frustrated when their bill is estimated. A high estimated bill usually results in overpayment, while a low estimate often requires a large "catch up" bill later. This brochure was prepared to answer the most commonly asked questions that consumers have concerning their meter and bill.
How do I know my meter is accurate?
The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) determines the type of meter reading equipment the utility can install and use to bill a customer for gas or electric service. Before any meter is installed it has to meet the accuracy specifications that are required by the Commission. PSC rules require that the meter not be more than two percent fast or two percent slow. Moreover, every utility is required to randomly test a series of meters to ensure that they are accurate. If requested by the customer, the utility must test the meter at no charge, provided that it has not been tested previously within the last 18 months. Should a customer question the validity of the utility's test, he or she may request that the PSC conduct a referee test. There is a $10.00 fee associated with each referee test.
How does the utility know how much to bill me?
Your meter is a precision instrument that measures how much energy you used. Your bill is based on the meter readings obtained by the utility. Maryland regulations require that the utilities strive to obtain regular monthly meter readings, unless otherwise noted in the utility's tariff. The date of the next scheduled meter reading is shown on the customer's bill. If the utility is unable to read the meter on the specified date, the customer will receive a bill based on an estimated reading. The estimated bill is based on past usage during the same time the previous year, as well as, current weather conditions. The utility is required to denote on the bill whether the bill is based on an actual or estimated reading.
Do I have to pay the "estimated" bill?
A customer must pay the bill whether it was based on an actual or estimated reading. However, if the estimated reading appears to be out of line with what you normally use during the same time of year, you are justified in requesting that the utility investigate the accuracy of your bill. Under Maryland Law, you do not have to pay the amount in dispute pending an investigation by the utility and/or PSC.
When might the utility estimate my bill?
Utilities may estimate a bill when certain conditions exist, such as extreme weather conditions, emergencies, work stoppages, or if other circumstances exist beyond the control of the utility. Additionally, the utility may estimate a bill whenever they are unable to gain access to a customer's home or yard to read the meter.
Utilities are required to maintain accurate meter reading records. The meter reading records shall include:
- Customer's name, address and rate schedule;
- Identifying number or description of the meter;
- Meter readings
- Date of the meter readings;
- If the meter had been estimated;
- Any applicable multiplier or constant used for billing purposes.
What can a customer do to prevent estimated readings?
The utility shall denote on the bill the date of the next scheduled meter reading. It is a customer's responsibility to permit the utility "reasonable" access to the meters and any other utility owned equipment located on the customer's property. If the customer will not be available on the meter reading dates, the utility can supply meter reading cards that the customer can use to record his own meter reading information. At least once every 12 months, a utility must obtain an actual meter reading to verify the accuracy of the readings recorded by the customer.
Many utilities have remote meter reading devices that can be installed at the customer's property. Depending on your utility, there may be a charge for the device. The device allows the utility to read the meter without having to enter a customer's home.
Who do I contact if I want to file a dispute?
If you think your bill is in error, you should first contact the utility to discuss and attempt to resolve the dispute. If you are not satisfied with the utility's response, you may file a written dispute to the PSC's Office of External Relations. Remember to include a copy of the disputed bills with your letter. You may also file a dispute online.
Have a Question??
Maryland Public Service Commission
Office of External Relations
William D. Schaefer Tower
6 St. Paul Street, 15th Floor
Baltimore, MD 21202
Voice: (410) 767-8028 or (800) 492-0474
Fax: (410) 333-6844