Monday , May 02, 2016 - 12:00 AM17 comments
OGDEN — Logan Sattelmair says she’s living her own version of the American dream.
Sattelmair, 25, purchased her first home, on Van Buren Avenue in Ogden, last summer and is employed full-time with Ogden city’s Animal Services division. She says as a young, single homeowner, money can be tight. But she keeps a budget, works hard and is proud that she can provide for own needs.
Nearly a year into taking the plunge, Sattelmair said a recent bill from Questar Gas threw a serious monkey wrench into her pattern, adding a small element of nightmare to the whole independent homeowner equation.
On April 27, Sattelmair said she got a bill from Questar for $312. Sattelmair said her previous month’s gas bill for her two-bedroom home was $44. Throughout the winter months, her gas bills hovered around that number.
“When I saw that bill, I said, ’Holy crap, this is crazy,’” she said. “I instantly got up and turned the heat off. I had no idea what was going on. I thought maybe I had some kind of leak or something.”
After making a call to Questar, Sattlemair eventually found out her gas delivery system was working just fine. Her meter, on the other hand, was a different story.
“I was told by someone in customer service that they noticed my bill was lower than what the previous owner had been paying,” she said. “They said they sent someone over to check and the meter had been misreading my usage.”
Sattelmair was told she must backpay for the gas she used. Questar is allowing her to space the payment over six months, interest free, but she says even that will stretch her pocketbook thin.
“I am single, doing it all on my own,” she said. “This is going to be like having another $50 bill each month. I’m already living tight as it is.”
Questar spokesman Darren Shepherd said bad meter readings, while rare, can happen. He said the Utah natural gas tariff, which is regulated by the Utah Public Services Commission, allows Questar to make billing corrections regardless of the cause of error. (Details on the gas tariff can be found in a 142-page document available at Questar’s website.)
“It’s about paying for the gas you actually use,” Shepherd said, noting that sometimes billing errors occur on the opposite end of the spectrum and Questar overcharges customers, then must pay them back or credit their account.
For billing errors, Shepherd said customers are typically allowed to make payments without interest over a period equal to the time the account was misread.
Claire Geddes, a longtime Utah consumer advocate who has worked extensively with utility companies, said resolving disputes in a manner favorable to the consumer can be tough, but it is possible.
“The average citizen doesn’t know what to do, so they just end up paying the bill,” she said. “It’s a difficult system to navigate, but there are resources available.”
Utility customers can file an “informal complaint” with the Utah Division of Public Utilities. When the division receives the complaint, it investigates and attempts to mediate a resolution between the customer and the utility company.
If the customer isn’t satisfied with the outcome, a formal complaint can be made with the Public Service Commission, which reviews evidence from the customer and the utility company to make a final ruling. More information on the process can be found www.psc.utah.gov/complaints.
Sattelmair says she isn’t sure if she has the time or resources to take her case to that level.
“When it comes down to it, I just don’t think I should have to pay for someone else’s mistake,” she said. “It seems pretty simple to me.”
You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 801-625-4233. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook.
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