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Skeptical Electric Customers Charge New Meters Raise Bills

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WAKE FOREST, N.C. — Stephen Rutherford keeps a close eye on his family's electric bill from the municipal utility, and when it swelled right about the same time a new digital electricity meter was installed at his Wake Forest home, he saw it as too much of a coincidence.

"I'm not really one to get into conspiracy theories or anything like that, but the past two months have been more than we've ever had to pay," he said.

Wake Forest customer service Manager Drew Brown assures everyone there is no conspiracy and new meters are simply more accurate.

The town of Wake Forest recently invested about $650,000 to replace about 6,500 residential electric meters with new ones. The new technology is advetised as more accurate because the moving parts in older meters slow down over time and more efficient because the newer meters allow workers to more quickly measure power usage on a residence.

"They're highly accurate," Brown said. "The deviation is two-thousandths of a percent."

Despite dozens of complaints, the town detected no problems with the new meters. Brown also said that the months of January and August are well known for sharp rises in energy use.

"You can't say my bill was higher this month from last month," Brown said. "You have to look from August to August, January to January."

Wake Forest is not alone in encountering new-meter skepticism. Progress Energy also fielded complaints when it installed the remote-reading technology in 2005 and earlier this year.

If customers insist, Wake Forest utility workers will test new meters for accuracy. If no problem is detected, however, customers must pay a testing fee of $10. Residents can also pay an independent contractor to test the meters.

Over time, the town hopes to build confidence.

"We'll work through it, because every situation is an individual situation," Brown said.

In addition to meter testing, Wake Forest offers free in-home energy audits to document efficiency and power usage. If customers still aren't convinced, they can file complaints with the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

Nonetheless, customers like Rutherford remain skeptical.

"There might be something to it. There might not be, but we just need to keep a close eye on it so that we as citizens can be treated fairly," he said.


Cullen Browder, Reporter
Gil Hollingsworth, Photographer
Kelly Gardner, Web Editor

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