News

Spiking utility bills anger Palo Alto residents

Cold weather, staffing shortages responsible for high bills

High utility bills often coincide with cold-weather spells, but many Palo Altans received an unwelcome shock this month when they saw their bills jump by more than $200, in some cases because of a staffing shortage in the Utilities Department.

The unexpected jump has prompted a flurry of complaints from Palo Alto's utility customers, who already pay some of the highest water rates in the area and who saw their gas expenditures spike to new heights. Resident Sara Pickett wrote in a letter to the City Council last week that her family is "dedicated to 'sipping' energy – water, electricity, gas." Her trash bin, she said, is the smallest size possible, and her house on a recent morning was 55 degrees. Yet the bill she received last week was more than $500, up from $175 the prior month.

"How is this possible?" the asked.

She noted that there was an error on the bill that led to a reduction of $50, but the increase remained a puzzle.

"I like to 'do the math' and understand my bill each month so that we can make changes to reduce our utilities," wrote Pickett, who lives in a three-bedroom Eichler house. "I am stumped this month."

While Pickett was stumped, Helen Bobgrove was "appalled" by a bill that left her feeling "as if I have been robbed." Bobgrove noted in an email that there was no evidence that her electric meter was ever read by the meter reader. Elizabeth Browne received a utility bill last week for $526.59, more than $300 higher than her November bill.

"I'm quite upset about this billing, can't afford such an increase on a fixed income, and need to have this rectified," Browne wrote.

Palo Alto officials said there were several possible reasons for the drastic increase, including cold weather and a shortage of meter readers in November and December. Debra Katz, spokewoman for City of Palo Alto Utilities, said the staffing shortage had forced the department to rely on "estimated" rather than "actual" meter readings, with the estimate based on prior year's usage. The estimated readings applied to a small portion of the city, she said. Meter readers typically run 104 routes in Palo Alto, she said. But because of a combination of injuries, vacations and staff turnover, there was a reader shortage that forced the city to estimate utility usage on six routes in November and on two routes in December.

Because the meter-reader shortage coincided with one of the coldest periods in recent memory, the estimated reading was far lower than the actual reading would've been, Katz told the Weekly. Gas usage, she said, was about 20 percent higher than at the same time last year. In fact, it was the highest gas usage that the city has seen in eight years, she said.

Katz said the estimated readings impacted about 1,400 out of the department's roughly 29,000 accounts, with the December estimates applying mostly to the Duveneck/St. Francis area.

Estimated readings, she said, are a long-standing practice, though a very uncommon one that typically goes unnoticed.

"We've been estimating bills occasionally when needed and it has not created a problem in the past," Katz said. "We had a perfect storm of variables here -- no rain, freezing weather and a shortage of meter readers, which means we estimated more bills than usual."

She noted that the staffing shortage will remain for at least the next two months, though estimated bills would be limited to one or two routes. Estimates will be marked with a small letter "e" next to the usage data.

The rash of customer complaints prompted City Manager James Keene to meet with Utilities staff this week to discuss the high bills. This morning, the department offered an explanation on the city's website, which cited the combination of cold weather and "estimated" readings as reasons for the higher bills.

When asked whether the incentives that a lower-than-expected bill can give utilities customers mixed signals, Katz acknowledged that the city will in the future notify customers in advance that the bills they will receive will not be based on actual readings.

In at least one case, the high bill was indeed erroneous. Utility officials discovered that they had made an error on Pickett's bill and ended up reducing it $150.60, to a slightly less eye-popping $374.50. David Yuan, of Palo Alto Utilities, noted in his response that Pickett's gas usage had gone up in December, which was not surprising because the month was "much colder than previous years."

Comments

Posted by TiredOfPaloAltoUtilitiesIncompetnence, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 10:34 am

How can one random bill be $150 in error? This is really unforgivable and the lot of them should be fired for incompetent performance and blatant fraud.


Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2014 at 10:48 am

Your government at work.


Posted by Ralph, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:06 am

Perhaps we should all be cautioned to audit our Utility Bills closely for inadvertent "errors"


Posted by furious, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:06 am

The idea of "estimated readings" is simply highway robbery. Either the customer has used the amount of gas/water/electricity for which he/she has been billed, or NOT. Of course the meters should be read! What IS this nonsense about "shortage of meter readers? The utilities officials should all be fired for incompetence and fraud.
Immediately.



Posted by Sgt Stubby, a resident of another community
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:07 am

Oh well, can't have it both ways. Plenty of people complained when AT&T took over cable... even thought they absorbed the millions in debt Palo Alto's cable company racked up. Some folks are getting exactly what they wanted.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:18 am

These billing shenanigans have gone on for years....and the city 'officials' allow it to happen. So what is the city going to do THIS time? What's the excuse next time? Enough. Senior citizens are really upset - everybody hit by this is upset. So, Mr. Keene and Ms. Shepherd, don't just sit there. DO something. Time to audit the Utility Department - and clean house.
























Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:20 am

The Utilities Department is a leech on the residents of this town. It is a de facto end run around Prop 13. How, you ask? There are no restrictions on how much this city-run department can charge for service to residents, who are essentially hostage to it. You could go solar for electricity, but where you gonna get gas, water and sewer, after all? The department is (a) bloated, and (b) corrupt (ref. previous director Ulrich, employees who were moonlighting on city time). It leases back various facilities to the city. It contributes profits to the general fund for city operations.

The only solution is to force them to charge rates that are no more than 2% over that charged by neighboring cities. They will then, suddenly, discover all kinds of efficiencies and waste.

The city council is addicted to this revenue. They are not going to fix it.

It's going to take a Measure on the ballot. Anyone ready to mobilize?


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:21 am

Ah, our Utility Dept. Some thoughts:

1) Notify the customers who were effected so they/we can protest our bills.

2) Better yet, adjust the bills of those effected.


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:41 am

Utilities meters keep a running total and are not reset when read, so if a usage estimate is incorrect the error will be corrected the next time the meter is read. You may pay more or less for the month of the estimate, but once they actually read the meter you will be back on track. I don't see a problem with this unless the estimate is totally out of line.

Of course the whole idea of people being paid to walk around and read meters seems a bit archaic. PG&E has been installing smart meters that transmit electricity usage information wirelessly, but some people have objected to that.


Posted by paneighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:41 am

Let me add to the fact that our Utility is transforming from a provider of services to a monitor/admonisher of our usage. My latest report scolds me for using much more energy than 100 of my neighbors. Guess what -- it was cold during that period!

And, they have the wrong square footage since we added on ten years ago. Sorry, but I won't log on to my "account" to update that info. What is the point? Another member of the family has been working from home which has added to our greater usage of energy. What, do I have to report that too?

These reports are designed to get us use to the idea that Utilities would like to keep tabs on us and to enter as much data about ourselves and lifestyles on their website.

No thank you Big Brother!

And this is the thanks we get for being good about energy efficiency and recycling!


Posted by A resident, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:46 am

How about educate user of meter reading and have user self report online and just actual check every quarter;
Monitor upward spikes remotely;
Increase communication by email and online chat;
Increase transparency of spendings.
A city like palo alto should be technology efficient in our daily utility services instead of encouraging high cost overhead. It is a survival skill in private sectors and why not in public services.


Posted by PleaseSomeCivility, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:50 am

The comments by TiredOfPaloAltoUtilitiesIncompetnence and furious are examples of the so many angry, irresponsible, and accusatory comments that get posted on these forums. It makes me sad, frustrated, and concerned that there seem to be so many angry people in our city whose emotions have lead them to make such inappropriate and inflammatory comments. These comments occur not only in such contentious topics such as the Measure D vote on PC zoning and low income housing, but also on topics such as this one, which may be quite isolated and have reasonable explanations and resolutions. Yet we have people who immediately jump to conclusions of incompetence, conspiracy, and illegality. People who resort to accusations of cronyism, fraud, and to attacks on the honesty and character of the persons involved. And their solution? "Off with their heads!"

What is the source of all this intolerance? It has to be more than just the actions of city personnel. What has happened in our lives, or in society, that has affected us such that we have so much anger? Is it the stress of traffic, finances, demographics that affects us? Has the dissonance in Congress and on the National Political level so affected us that we attack our own neighbors and City?

Whatever it is, I urge all of us to take a deep breath first, count to 10 (or 100 if necessary) before taking to the attack. Yes, demand facts and information be made public – by supporting your local and regional newspapers to help ferret those out. Yes, demand explanations from those who are or should be in charge - but be sure that they are the right ones, and that they actually *have* the authority and control that you believe. Yes, hold people accountable - but take into account the nature of the 'offense' and consider whether it is an appropriate learning experience, or worthy of discipline, or requires dismissal. And if it requires voting, then VOTE! Measure D (not its rhetoric) showed that it is possible to make changes happen.

But remember that you are not always right. And that whatever the issue, you may be in the minority. Other well-thinking and well-meaning neighbors may have thoughts and feelings and ideas that are different from yours. Disagreement does not make it appropriate for attacks, unsubstantiated charges, and name calling. Please, let us return some civility to the discourse.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2014 at 12:11 pm

The mismanagement of our utilities is outrageous, I agree. We compared our usage for December with the previous December (as we always do) and discovered that we had the approximate same usage but higher charge. (The previous December was very wet, if you remember).

The trash removal is another outrage. There is nothing we can do to reduce the bill. We have the smallest black can, but regardless how often we put our cans out, the charge is the same. It is about time they charged us per pick up, not monthly charge.

As for having people walk around the neighborhoods, why don't they outsource this to the Post Office and Mail Deliverers could combine and do both? (At least talk about the idea rather than dismiss it).


Posted by Oldman, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Please don't coplain.
The extra money will help "Suntainability" and to hire Over Qualified World Class Managers

Percentage jump of our utility bills can't be rationally explained by shortage of workers. Managers can do some work occasiannaly! But not under the current City Leadershipo.


Posted by Richard C. Placone, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 12:52 pm

While I too am disturbed by the rates we are charged, and what I believe to be excessive profits transferred to the General Fund, my comment here is directed to the user who complained about being compared to her neighbors usage and being "scolded" for using more services. A customer can opt out of this program of being compared with your neighbors, just by calling the UD and asking to be taken off the program. We did the first time it started. I don't want government being a "Big Brother" telling me how to live my life when I am already conserving as much as possible. Consider, we are retired seniors home almost all the time, while 95% of our neighbors are working people whose homes are vacant all day. Of course we come out higher users, esp gas to keep the house at our maximum of 68 degrees in the evening, much cooler all day and the heat off at night.


Posted by RESIDENT, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 10, 2014 at 12:56 pm

It is quite a mystery to me why there have to be meter readers. In many places in Europe the system is honorary. That is you read your own meter. There are spot checks to keep people honest. Saves money for all. Are we that untrustworthy bunch in US?


Posted by AdamH, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Yeah out water bill was crazy last month. Came down this month. I guess this explains it. Would have been nice to have been notified that it was an estimate.

Also, lived in LA for awhile. Down there LADWP only sends you a bill every other month. Seems like a reasonable way to cut costs on not having to got get a reading from every customer, every month.


Posted by Joel, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Joel is a registered user.

Are not the winter rate charges and the summer charges different?
Winter charges being more and summer charges reduced. Never understood that reasoning. I put my mini-trash can out twice a year. But pay the piper each month. I have had my house electricity redone by a city program and received a 100 home comparison that my electricity use was far greater than those within a couple of miles. I live in a 750 sq. ft. condo. I consider myself a very conscientious environmentalist. Help!!!


Posted by Larry, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 10, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Thank you Civility for reminding me to let pass the extremely hateful comments. This town isn't perfect but I love it here, and paying for utilities every month is just one of many things I'm glad to do as a member of the community.

I used to work downtown, and have on occasion worked with people from the city government. I've always found them genuinely good people. But like me they are imperfect, make mistakes, and deserve to be treated respectfully.


Posted by disgusted, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 10, 2014 at 2:31 pm

I agree with "Furious" in Mid-Town that the concept of billing based on Estimated amounts (it's a capital E on the bill, not a "small "e" as Ms Katz is quoted) has absolutely NO place in exacting payment for measured goods or services of any kind.

The application by Palo Alto Utilities of this extraordinary tactic is also not consistent. On our bills of 2013, gas, and gas only, had an "Estimated" line every month, which always showed 0 because the meter had evidently been read, not guessed at. In July 2013, there was also an Estimated line for water usage, with the Estimated higher than the Actual. Ouch! Are we ever glad our meter got read by a real person! And there never was an Estimated line for Electricity all year.

All in all, seems time to get back to posting only Actual readings performed by a live meter reader.


Posted by Volga Boatman, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2014 at 3:07 pm

The Utilities Dept has been too inefficient for too long. They need to be audited and to do a thorough overhaul. There is no way that a staff shortage could cause a $200 error in our bill, especially since last month was colder!


Posted by Energy Professional, a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 10, 2014 at 3:19 pm

"Furious" has every right to be. No utility should ever be able to bill for power that has not been recorded by a revenue-grade meter at the customer premise. Using "estimated" meter reads is ridiculous and should be stopped immediately.

The city council, however, being as money hungry as they are (they needed a quarter million tax dollars to hire their new Chief PR Officer to tell us what a great job they've been doing, for example), probably will do nothing since they want the revenue, (and the Utility Users tax revenue that flows right into their General Fund which they can then blow on perks and pensions.

Someone who understands the necessary paperwork please start a Recall. You will have wholehearted community support. Kniss and Berman would be a great start, and the other "gang of six" we can bounce in November.


Posted by SteveU, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 3:37 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

Donald
Your utilities are billed at tiered rates.
Under read one month and the next months 'correct' reading can be pushed into (or further into) the next tier which is at a higher rate.
Knowing your tier break points will let you know if you are being over billed or if it does not matter.
Example: 1R water breaks after 7 Units. If both readings were over 7, you did not incur a second tier overcharge. If your normal reading is 5 Units and they billed 1 Unit, then next month the correct reading would now be 9 Units, or 2 units charged at the higher tier rate where they would not normally be.
Word of praise for OUR meter reader. I don't know how you manage to read a water meter with a muddy glass, down in a dark, meter box AND GET IT RIGHT so often.


Posted by Dan, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Yeah ... I got a utility bill for >$600. More than 2.7x our normal baseline electric use. So I went out and read the meter myself. Electric use was almost the same as the previous baseline month. They sent someone out and are supposed to correct the bill. Interesting to find out that my experience might not be an isolated incident. Guess I'll start checking my utility bills more carefully from now on.


Posted by Debra Katz, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 10, 2014 at 4:27 pm

PleaseSomeCivility---your remarks are appreciated. As usual, I will ignore the comments full of hostile vitriol based on sweeping generalization rather than on specific facts. I do want to add a few points to the discussion, for those readers who review the comments in the interest of better understanding the issues:

1) The VAST majority of people who got higher than average bills recently got them because they used more energy and water than usual due to the freezing weather and lack of rain.

2) VERY few customers got estimated bills.(less than 5%) Most customers never get an estimated bill in their lifetime and usually only a handful of routes need to be estimated over the course of a year. It was a very unfortunate coincidence of events that recently we lost the service of several meter readers at once. Remaining meter readers worked overtime but we still couldn't get to all the routes in time and so a few (out of 104!) had to be estimated.

3) NOBODY is cheated or charged for commodities they don't use. When bills have to be estimated one month, the next month the meter is read. If the estimate had been too high, the next bill will be commensurately lower. If the estimate was too low, then the next bill will be commensurately higher. Either way, in the end, customers only pay for the energy and water they actually used...no more and no less.

2) Customers who have contacted us with a concern got a detailed analysis of their personal billing situation. We cannot and should not discuss individual customer situations in a public forum, but I can state that the SINGLE billing error situation that occured was complicated and not something that happens normally to anyone else. We get scores of calls about bills seeming "not right" and only rarely does it turn out there was an error. Nevertheless, if you are ever in doubt about the accuracy of your bill, you should contact our Customer Service Center.

I'd like to close by reminding readers we have community-owned utilities, which means the City Council is our boss and meeting our customers needs is our prime driver. There are always ways to improve service and we welcome constructive criticism. Anyone can contact me directly any time.

Debra Katz
Utilities Communications Manager
debra.katz@cityofpaloalto.org


Posted by Debra Katz, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 10, 2014 at 4:29 pm

A quick apology to my math-teacher father...despite the impression left by my goof in numbering my points above, I really can count. (-;


Posted by Midlander, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Debra,

Thank you for posting a calm and patient response! It's nice to hear the other side of the story.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Folks, any of you can sign up for the self reporting program. It's easy and done via a web page.


Posted by board, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 7:07 pm

so this is white americas a new way of they dinner table chat. online forums so electronically removed whiter americans have ''dinner table'' talk in their isolated electronic cubicle ''houses''. the ''removed society'' we live in at least for now. no commitment to real healthy change. electronic fishbowl ''humans''. electronic neighborhood replaces a true ''home''. a house is not a home. famous amereican catchphrase, no??


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Debra Katz

2) My complaints would be with the poor technical ability of the utility field workers, which has dramatically fallen in the last 20 years.

1) But I'll offer a positive suggestion that would benefit both the city and the public. Why not move to self reporting once every quarter instead of monthly. Less processing work, same revenue.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 11, 2014 at 9:08 am

#1 Read the article via the web link - don't just scan these posts. The details are important.
#2 do not put your monthly bills on auto pay - if such a scenario like this is possible - it is necessary, clearly, to examine each PA city bill before paying.
#3 how much vacation do PA meter readers receive each year? Just curious.
#4 I suggest every other month meter reading, billing and payment


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 11, 2014 at 10:05 am

I think people aren't understanding estimation. If they can't read your meter, either because of their personnel, or because they can't access your property, an estimate is made. The following month, when they hopefully do access your meter, they will reconcile the estimate with the actual, and either add or subtract the difference to the current bill. You end up paying exactly what you owe.


Posted by Former Palo Alto resident, a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2014 at 11:37 am

I've lived at various times in Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and Portola Valley. Moving from Menlo Park to Palo Alto brought the pleasant surprise of much lower utility bills, and I enjoyed them for many years, until I moved to Portola Valley and was rudely surprised by much higher utility bills — the disparity had increased while I was in Palo Alto. I'm not comparing total bills (which would be greatly influenced by the size and construction of the house in question), but the actual charges for a kWh of electricity, a therm of gas, etc. CPAU must have really jacked up their rates if the complaints have any merit!

As for estimation, the sticking point is that the rate paid for each additional unit of energy depends on how many you're already used that month (pricing tiers). If the usage is estimated, and the estimate is far enough off from your actual usage, either you'll be billed too much, or too little, as a result of some of your usage being billed in the incorrect tier. I would expect this to be more of an issue for the customer in a warm year than a cold year, as the estimate would be based on your presumably higher use in the previous colder year. Particularly galling if you made an effort to conserve energy this year (purchasing a new thermostat, insulation, wearing more sweaters, etc.) and then were charged at a higher rate than you should have been, despite cutting your usage!

It really ticked off the Tin Foil Hat crowd, but at least PG&E's Smart Meter program means you can see your energy usage on a day-by-day basis, and the bill isn't estimated when they are short-handed. If you think you're getting the short end of the stick from CPAU, take a date-stamped picture of your meter every month at the reading date and compare it with the estimated bill. If the estimate just happens to cause your bill to include a scenic trip to a higher tier than your reading, take it up with them!

From the day-by-day usage reports from PG&E and my Nest thermostat, I can verify that a higher utility bill for my home this past month is indeed because it was significantly colder outside, and it was necessary to use more energy to keep the interior at even the cooler temperatures I chose. I suspect the same will be true for nearly everyone. But if you don't like unpleasant surprises, self-reading your meter and keeping a chart will alert you to upcoming large utility bills, and give you some ammunition to argue over the size of the bill if the managers at CPAU fail to manage their staffing next year and you end up with a large estimated bill.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 11, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Former Palo Alto resident
> If you think you're getting the short end of the stick from CPAU, take a date-stamped picture of your meter every month at the reading date and compare it with the estimated bill.

How do you know your meter read date?


Posted by Terrie, a resident of Stanford
on Jan 12, 2014 at 1:25 pm

My PG&E bill was $715.00 this month. no kidding. It was $289.00 the previous month. I really have no idea what to do with this. Pay it, obviously, but i already work 12 hours a day 5 days a week. Who has the time to spend hours on the phone with PG&E while they route you all over the map trying to find someone who can help. Any suggestions from readers greatly appreciated. This is highway robbery. And truly, I don't think the heat was on for more than 3 -4 days all month.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 12, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Is your bill from PG&E or is it from CPAU? This thread is about CPAU.


Posted by SteveU, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 12, 2014 at 6:09 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

Crescent Park Anon
Meter Read date is at the top of your bill.
My meter reader shows up like clockwork and usually shows up on the same week and DAY as that every month.
Our read day is Thursday of the second week of the month


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 12, 2014 at 6:24 pm

SteveU, thanks, I never noticed that .... I'm assuming it is the same day every month?


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 12, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Terrie, IIRC, PG&E is open beyond normal work house. It's probably worth a call, to see if there was a mistake, or if you can make payments.

With the CPAU issue, what am I missing - it sounds like there was one serious error, some estimations, and in the majority of the cases, people weren't overcharged, but that they used more energy than normal. Is that correct?


Posted by Bob, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 12, 2014 at 8:39 pm

To Hmmmm, there are just too many seething residents especially in the north and northeast part of town and evidently Stanford. If I remember correctly from years ago, those who live in homes on the campus, own - or rent - just the house. Stanford owns the land and paid for the water. The resident paid for gas and electric, and I do not remember to whom that was paid. But I think it was Palo Alto. Anyone remember/know?


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2014 at 9:30 pm

We just returned from spending a prolonged holiday out-of-state. We weren't home for 10 days of the last utility cycle. The lights, heat and air condition were never on. Water wasn't used. Yet, our bill went UP by more than $30 from the previous month.

This was...weird.


Posted by Hutch 7.62, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 12, 2014 at 9:43 pm

Palo Alto been ripping us off since the 90's high prices for such an antiqued system that's falling apart. Why do we have still have telephone poles? PG&E is doing away with them. CPAU is finally replacing decrepit our old gas mains. after PG&E got sued

For living in such an overpriced expensive city we sure have crappy infrastructure I driven on better roads in Mexico!. What have they been doing with all the money?


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 12, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Um, All of the gas mains in PA that have been recently replaced belong to PG&E, not PA.


Posted by SteveU, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 13, 2014 at 7:40 am

SteveU is a registered user.

CPD
You may be confusing the PG&E recent high pressure distribution work with the CPAU upgrades done in parts of the city.

Our street Gas mains (Yellow pipe) were upgraded about 10 years ago (this was seriously need. We saw a delayed (no workers present) failure from a nearby excavation. Not pretty)
Our street Sewer was done a few years ago
Our ancient (PG&E era) Power was modernized about 1995


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2014 at 9:56 am

For most people, the highest utility cost is electricity--at least during the winter. If you have doubts about your energy use, then record the meter--on a day, or at least a week, basis. You don't need a smartmeter to make sense of your readings, or your use.

The Federal Government seems to be getting into the act, too--

DOE Plugs Energy Rating for Homes, Similar to MPG Rating for Cars:
Web Link

There are handheld meters that can be inserted into any circuit with an appliance that can measure the appliance's electrical use, and then it, or you, can determine the monthly cost for that appliance. Word has it that the library has some of these devices, which can be borrowed for a few days. Otherwise, these devices can be purchased in the $20-$40 range.

While the Utility might not be reading meters monthly, you can.


Posted by Hutch 7.62, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 13, 2014 at 2:24 pm

@SteveU

CPAU is still replacing old gas line right at this very moment along Alma and it;s feeder streets in old Palo Alto.

Back in the late 80's early 90's CPAU was going to rid the city of power poles and go underground they only completed Middlefield Rd from the Menlo border to I think it was Oregon expwy. Maybe someone on this forum can refresh my memory as to why that project got killed.

@CPD The only gas line owned by PG@E in PA is the transmission line from San Antonio north to Oregon expwy. The other is along Foothill expwy and Junipera Serra


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 13, 2014 at 2:37 pm

@Joe - Don't you think most people's largest expense in the winter is gas? Aren't most people have gas heating these days?


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2014 at 2:42 pm

> CPAU is still replacing old gas line right at this very moment

Yes .. that's true. Many years ago the CPAU claimed that it would be on a 2% per year replacement cycle for its underground assets. Given that steel pipe has a nominal 50 year lifespan for sewers, and probably a little longer for gas--this 2% per year meant that every 50 years there would be a nominal 100% replacement.

Don't think that the CPAU has ever actually published a street-by-street, or segment-by-segment, plan for replacing its underground assets, but it's hard to fault them for this schedule, unless it's unnecessarily aggressive--thereby increasing the cost to the customer.

Unfortunately, the so-call Utility Advisory Commission, nor the City Council, has ever shown much interest in getting a second opinion as to what the appropriate replacement cycle should be for the gas pipes. However, without a lot of research--it's hard to be too concerned about this seemingly prudent approach to gas pipe maintenance.


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Joe, electricity was 16% of my December bill, while gas was 41%. I think that is probably more typical for a home with gas heat sand energy-efficient appliances.


Posted by Soggy, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 13, 2014 at 3:04 pm

The meters for reading electricity use of devices are informative, but they don't work on the two biggest hogs in our house: the dryer and the oven. Those run on 220 and use a different plug. The dryer says on it that it uses 5600 Watts, though, so I don't need to measure it. That is about 100 times the power we use to light our living room. That means that we save more on electricity by taking things out of the dryer a few minutes early and hanging them up to finish drying than we would by running around and turning off lights all the time. In the summer we save even more by hanging laundry outside to dry.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2014 at 4:48 pm

> electricity was 16% of my December bill, while gas was 41%.

Thanks for the information. After making the post, it dawned on me that there are many different modes of home heat in Palo Alto--older homes with gas heaters, Eichlers with gas floor heat, Eichlers/others with panel heat.

If gas is the major component of your utility bill, then you'll need to spend some time trying to figure out how many hours the heating is on, and look to install thermostats that would allow you to program the temperature on a by-hour basis. Other options include installing air flow devices in your ducting that will allow you to shutoff the airflow into rooms that you might not be using.

Would you mind sharing the dollar amounts of your last couple of bills, by electric and gas components?

Thanks.



Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Joe, I have done all the things you recommend. I don't feel like sharing the details of my utilities bill with the world.


Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 13, 2014 at 7:49 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Some comments from a person who had training on alternative energy systems where you learned prices " off the grid " and " on the grid " courtesy of Foothill College. That means some facts about different types of energy usage.

First XCEL ENERGY ( which it's not ) HAS a FAILED SMARTMETER PROJECT and expect EVERY RATEPAYER to fork over the $53 MILLION for making Boulder, CO their showcase " smart city ". The upshot: Boulder KICKED OUT Xcel Energy and is now looking at taking the Valmont Power Plant " for their citizens ". Yes, the citizens were ordered to have smartmeters that ended up charging every customer more in billing charges for energy use.

Xcel has a tiered rate system in place. The reality is that if you have any medical equipment operating in the residence, YOU AUTOMATICALLY GO OVER THE FIRST TIER IN THEIR BILLING SYSTEM AND YOU PAY MUCH LARGER BILLS!
Yes, I've protested to the PUC and Xcel about the violation of the ADA. No Response. You may want to look at the Tier system and the structured levels. Are they set too low and do your estimates bump you into the next higher " penalty " tier?

Another note: Better check with Zoning Laws before you hang out your laundry to dry..That " tenement look " could be illegal in the City Limits.

Solar energy production could backfire on the homeowner. Xcel and other utilities DO NOT PAY YOU FOR SOLAR ENERGY YOU PUT ON THE GRID. And if a public utility " claims they do ", the extra requirements and paperwork become a real reason why many solar energy projects store the energy in batteries and do their own energy management. The ROI claimed for the investment in PV or hot water solar energy just isn't there. Unless it's more than 3/4 of a mile to the electrical and gas sources.

Oh, another thing: solar and wind energy " farms create a visual pollution as well as killing off local wildlife. The only way Xcel gets back their investment in that wind farm near the Wyoming border they built is a special " green energy rate " that is higher than a normal tier....After all, you are a " ( smug creating ) green citizen " who can look down on all you energy wasters....

So if you want to be informed, spend several days at City Hall with their open records....They ARE open, aren't they? It might make some permanent employees quite nervous...and will give you an education in city politics, especially when they control ( supposedly your ) power...


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2014 at 8:48 pm

I don't see what those ramblings about Xcel and Colorado have to do with Palo Alto. CPAU does pay for any excess electricity generated by solar installations, with little in the way of paperwork. As for smart meters, I have never heard any mention of them being proposed in Palo Alto. It doesn't sound to me as if you are very well informed about what happens here, only elsewhere.


Posted by Soggy, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 13, 2014 at 8:54 pm

Palo Alto has no current zoning ordinance that prohibits clotheslines. It may have at one time.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 13, 2014 at 9:13 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

I hung clothes on lines for *years* when I lived in Palo Alto. The snobbery of thinking it looks like a tenement to do so is incredibly ridiculous, short-sighted and stupid. It's one of the best energy savers that there is in a state w/so much sunshine. Clothes smell wonderful, too. I love using my clothesline in my backyard currently.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2014 at 10:12 pm

> As for smart meters, I have never heard any mention of them being
> proposed in Palo Alto.

Actually, smart meters have been on the Utility's "to do" list for about ten years now. Within the last couple of years (probably last year), the Utility produced a study that claimed that there were various "problems" that precluded the Utility's moving to install smart meters in Palo Alto, even though PG&E has installed these meters within its service area within the past two years without any real problems that could be substantiated by actual use.

While there are many ideas about how these meters might aid users to better manage their utility use, the main immediate benefit would be to have the meter readings collected via a radio transmitter in each meter--saving the labor costs for reading meters. The labor cost is/about $1M a year.


Posted by ...Wishful thinking....., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2014 at 2:42 am

I live in Palo Alto, am unable to hang my clothing up on a clothes line, unfortunately....Our town has grown out of it's britches, there are homes where apricot orchards used to blossom, cows, chickens and horses that used to roam, boats that used to float, and laundry that was hung with care with the fresh disinfection and smell of the sun upon it...I really miss the smell of hanging sheets outside the most...I don't think today's youth realize what they have missed here. Best weather year all year round to be able to use. But with today's society, everyone is so involved in techie work, no one takes the time as it sounds so time consuming! PLUS, every little inch of land here in Palo Alto is sought after~ not even any room left for a few OLD fashioned lines.


Posted by Andy, a resident of another community
on Jan 14, 2014 at 6:17 am

I reside in a state with deregulation of electric providers. Natural gas, which provides heating, is still provided by one company. I get to compare and choose which electric provider I want. Last month, it was colder than normal. Natural gas: $72.50 Electricity: $43.66


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2014 at 6:31 am

Channel 2 has done a report on this Web Link


Posted by Always check, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 14, 2014 at 9:54 am

Our current utility bill showed that we used more then twice the amount of water this service period vs last year. Seemed impossible, so I called the utility and they did a flow check (looking for leaks) this morning.

Good news no leak, but my water meter read less today then it supposedly read 7 days ago!! I am told I will receive a re-adjuster bill shortly. BTW my bill showed that I had an "Actual Read" not an estimate.

Never be afraid to call if you suspect a problem!


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