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Watch Duke Energy – Problem (Probably) Fixed

By Sid of Stone Marmot

Feb. 23, 2015

(Update: Feb. 25, 2015. I finally got hold of someone knowledgeable at Duke who confirmed what I originally suspected. The reading in question really was 3847 and just got misentered into the system. Full details in "Day 3" of this series.)

I just received my electric bill today, Feb. 23, 2015, from Duke Energy. I quickly noticed Duke claimed my use was 50% higher than normal. I check my electric meter almost daily and I figured I used about 55 to 60 kwh during the billing period ending the middle of February (I didn't know exactly because I can't accurately guess beforehand when Duke will read the meter). Duke claimed I used 89 kwh for this period. So I immediately went outside and checked my meter. The reading on the meter was 18 kwh LOWER than what Duke claimed they read a week ago.

Modern digital power meters DO NOT RUN BACKWARDS!! This is discussed in detail in my article Stone Marmot Goes Solar: Part 6, Modern Power Meters Don't Run Backwards.

These readings may seem extremely low. But, remember, as described in other articles on this website, I've gone through great pains to make my house as energy efficient as possible. I also installed photovoltaic power on my house and it is generating about three times as much electricity as I use, so almost all of my use during daylight hours is canceled out by the power my solar panels are generating. Remember from previous articles on this website that the utility power meters can't measure exactly how much I am using and how much I am generating, only the difference between what I am using and what I am generating and that this difference is either flowing into or out of the house.

Figure 1 is a copy of my Feb. 2015 power bill with the personal info blacked out. Figure 2 is a blow up of the area of concern on the bill. In the upper right hand corner of Figure 2 the “Billing Period” is listed as “01-14-15 to 02-16-15.” This means that the “Previous” readings on this bill were read Jan 14, 2015, and the “Present” or “Current” readings were read Feb. 16, 2015.


Figure 1- February 2015 electric bill.


Figure 2- Blow up of area of concern in February 2015 electric bill.

The “Present (Actual)” reading near the upper left corner is what Duke claims was the actual reading for electrical use (actually, net power that flowed into the house) made Feb. 16, 2015, which is listed as “003877,” or 3877 kwh. But Figure 3 shows a photograph taken Feb. 23, 2015, at 2:45 pm, a week later, of the actual meter reading. This photo shows only 3859 kwh, 18 kwh less than what Duke claimed they read a week earlier. The meter photograph should read about a week's worth of electrical use more than what was claimed to have been read Feb. 16 by Duke. Instead, it reads about 18 kwh less than the power bill reading.


Figure 3- Photograph taken Feb. 23, 2015 of the actual meter reading of net power flowing into house.

I suspect the actual meter reading Feb. 16 was 3847 kwh, which is 59 kwh more than the previous month's reading. This is what I was expecting and typical of my monthly use. This would also mean that I used about 12 kwh in the seven days since Duke read the meter and I photographed it, which is again typical of my use for this time of the year. Since I have solar power, net metering, and a special meter, my meter has to be read manually and is not read remotely via electronics. I suspect the meter reader either misread the number or, more likely, misentered the number into whatever data logging device they use.

I immediately called the Duke Customer Service number and tried to explain the problem. The representative said that the bill states that it is an “actual” reading and the “actual” reading can NEVER be wrong. She claimed Duke's meter readers don't ever make mistakes. Besides, she went on, if there appears to be a problem in March's meter readings, Duke will just replace the meter after the March reading.

AND THAT IS WHERE THE REAL CONCERN IS!!!

You may think at first glance that this isn't really a problem because if the meter reading is 30 kwh too high this month, the monthly electrical usage will appear 30 kwh lower than normal next month when the meter is read correctly, so it is all awash. But it is not awash! If the usage is 60% lower than normal, which a 30 kwh drop appears as in my case, Duke will assume the meter was defective and replace the meter. Duke will ignore the actual meter reading for March and make an estimate of the use. This estimate is almost certain to be higher than my actual use, since my electric use typically peaks in January and February and typically drops starting in March. But, most important, THEY WILL NOT MAKE AN ESTIMATE OF MY POWER GENERATION SURPLUS! They will assume my solar array generated NO power for this billing period.

How can I be so certain of this? Because it has already happened to me once before. The night of June 22, 2010, a tree in my yard suffered a direct lightning strike. My power meter apparently stopped recording any new data from that moment on. I notified Progress Energy (Duke bought Progress Energy about 2 years ago) about the situation the next morning shortly after their office opened. It took Progress Energy over a week to come out and fix the meter. They estimated my electrical use for that time the meter was off line and added the estimate to the data that was still in the meter when it went off line. But they did not do the same for the power I generated. I lost about 100 kwh of power generation credit for that billing period.

I'm assuming the meter reader made an honest mistake, or, at least, I give Duke the benefit of the doubt. Everyone makes mistakes. That is not fraud. But when the company refuses to acknowledge their mistake and completely ignores the customer, even when the customer has photographic proof, that is deliberately cheating the customer. In Duke's mind, they are always right and the customer is ALWAYS wrong. These digital power meters do not run backwards. The reading cannot be less than it was a week before. If they came out right now they could see for themselves that it is lower than the reading on the bill.

Now many will say “Why worry about this?” It is only a one time thing that will result in probably less than $20 increase in my electric bill. (Actually, it probably won't affect my bill at all this year, but, instead, affects my surplus credit for next year so I probably won't see this additional charge until fall of 2016.) But I already did ignore this once before back in July 2010. I figured it wasn't worth raising a fuss over a then about $5 increase in my electric bill. But how many more times is this going to happen? How many other people is this happening to, almost all of which never notice it because it is so small a difference and they don't pay enough attention to their bills.

If I am caught stealing a $2 candy bar from a business, I will at least end up with a criminal record and could spend time in jail. But for a business to steal $20 from a customer, many feel this is no big deal and not worth fighting over. The message here is that it is a serious crime for a customer to steal from a business but it is perfectly OK for a business to steal from a customer. This is one hell of a double standard. No wonder so many people are becoming so disenchanted with our present political, judicial, and economic system.

PS: For completeness, the “Current Received” value in Figure 2 is “013742,” or 13,742 kwh generated (actually, net power that flowed out of the house) was read on Feb. 16, 2015. Figure 4 shows a photograph taken 2/23/15 at 2:45pm of this same corresponding value on the meter, which shows 13,806 kwh. This indicates that 64 kwh surplus was generated over the past week since Duke read the meter and I photographed it after receiving my most recent bill. This is an average of about 9 kwh/day, which is more than my typical about 7.5 kwh/day. But this makes sense since this past week has been clear and sunny. It has also been colder than normal, and photovoltaic panels are more efficient when cold. Overcast and rain is predicted for the next five days, so my solar panel power production will probably drop below average for the next five days.


Figure 4- February 23, 2015, meter reading of net power flowing out of house.

This is also another indication that my power meter has been operating correctly this past week.

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