Help to resolve utility bill disputes

At the end of February I got the surprise of my life when my gas bill from Chain Lakes Gas Co-op Ltd. showed I used more gas in January

Dear Editor:

At the end of February I got the surprise of my life when my gas bill from Chain Lakes Gas Co-op Ltd. showed I used more gas in January than I used for the entire previous year. The investigation and conclusions that followed were like out of a “Keystone Cops” series I enjoyed as a kid, except these were not as funny.

The first excuse for the high gas bill was this period was “consistently cold,” yet my rural neighbours’ gas bills did not increase or increased very little during this period. Their next response was that the months of November and December 2012 were estimated “extremely low,” yet I paid more during this period than I had the previous year. I was then informed they had taken my gas meter off at the end of January and sent it to an engineering firm in Edmonton for testing, and they reported the meter was in excellent condition. The engineering firm had reported “if it had gone through the meter I had used the gas.”

When I advised them I had less people here this year than last, and the new meter showed my gas usage back to normal, (I felt it had to be the meter) they advised the engineering firm stated there was a remote chance the index drive had rolled ahead but they could not prove it. Because of this, Chain Lakes Gas Co-op was going to give me the “benefit of the doubt” and deduct about one-third off my bill. I responded I would give them the same offer they gave me to avoid legal action. The response I got was a disconnect order for March 25. I contacted CBC’s “Go Public” who were waiting for them on March 25. My gas was not disconnected, but the matter was not settled.

Next entered executive director Lyle from Alberta Federation of Gas Co-ops. His thing was looking for gas leaks (although I do not think gas leaks go through the gas meters). He had Chain Lakes walk my yard and when the snow left, they walked my line. As they found no gas leaks, they came to the conclusion the gas had gone through my meter.

Chain Lakes phoned me to ask if I was going to pay my outstanding balance, and I said I was not. Again they were going to disconnect my gas saying I would get a letter and phone call shortly. I was ready to go to court as I had a furnace man who said he could prove my furnaces could not burn the amount of gas during the time period they were billing me for. Then I got a phone call from Measurements Canada who said they heard of me through CBC-TV and asked if I wanted help settling this matter.

Measurements Canada came out to my residence and gave me a form to complete. They obtained my old meter from the engineering firm Chain Lakes had sent it to and took it to their laboratories. With an employee from Chain Lakes, they came back to my residence and took two to three hours and did a complete inspection of my gas outlets. In a short time, they sent Chain Lakes and I a report of their findings saying my meter was defective. I was then able to come to a satisfactory settlement based on Measurements Canada’s recommendations.

While I was looked after, I would like readers to join me in contacting their MPs and MLAs asking all utility companies make their customers aware of the services available through Measurements Canada. This could be done by a message on utility bills saying: “If you are in disagreement with this bill, you can call Measurements Canada” and list their phone number. While this has never happened to me before, it can happen to anyone. It would save a lot of time, money and worry if utility customers knew they had someone to turn to besides the utility company in a time of dispute.

Why Chain Lakes Gas Co-op went to an engineering firm who had no power or authority, limited investigative ability, and charged a fee for their finding, when they could have gone to Measurements Canada, who have a great deal of power and authority, have extensive investigative ability and charge no fee — God only knows — or maybe so does Sven, but I don’t.

S.W. (Sid) Morris,