Now that we’re a few weeks into the New Year, let’s shake things up with an interactive Water Efficiency editor’s blog. In light of a recent story out of Tennessee about a disputed water bill, an alleged leak, and an angry customer, I am interested to hear what you think about advanced metering technology (AMR/AMI) as a tool for leak detection and customer outreach.
Here are the facts as reported by the Jackson Sun. Over the course of several months, a Lexington Utilities customer received several water bills that hovered around the $200–300 mark. The customer alleges that she began to complain after receiving the first $219 bill in July and asked for assistance as her bills continued to rise. A service technician was sent out to inspect the meter and determined that the device appeared to be in working order, but they switched it out upon the customer’s request.
Now here’s where things get dicey. The customer says the technician informed her that the meter was “perfectly still,” and there were no leaks. After installing a new meter at the end of September, her October bill was back to $30—more in line with her average bills before July.
The utility disputes the customer assertions. They maintain that their technician observed a large amount of “standing water” during his visit, which the utility says is a sign that the customer did have a leak in their system. A utility spokesperson went on to say that the original meter had been checked and found to be in perfect operating order. The utility believes the customer had the leak fixed before the new meter was installed, and the repair is what led to the smaller bill for the month of October.
Of course, lawsuits have been filed, and the customer is hoping for some kind of bill reduction—her latest total owed now hovers around $1,900.
So what do you think? As meter accuracy and capabilities increase, are utilities more likely to stand by the infallibility of their equipment? And now that automatic metering has made the meter reader “house call” a thing of the past, will customer trust be subverted by the “invisible” nature of water use data collection? Will the increased opportunities for consumers to monitor and micromanage their water use due to the Web interface available with many new metering systems help counteract some of this distrust? What are your experiences with incorporating advanced metering (or other data integration technologies) as either a purveyor or a consumer? What tips, tidbits, and talking points would you like to share?