Mayor: Tests show power bills are accurate

By Jason Hawk -

Extensive tests have shown Amherst’s new electric meters to be accurate, according to data provided by mayor Mark Costilow.

Following complaints about utility bills at a Sept. 10 city council meeting, as well as on social media, he ordered an array of tests of both old and new meters.

Four meters deemed to be among the most likely to have problems were taken to workers at the Oberlin Municipal Lights and Power System, where calibration machines showed they were on point.

An independent company was also hired to check meters, Costilow said. Nearly 50 were tested, including some from industrial customers, and on average they were accurate to within 0.02 percent, well within the industry standard of two percent deviation.

“The people who had big concerns, we actually went back through the boxes and found their old meters,” said Costilow.

The goal was to discover whether the old meters were running slowly, which would have contributed to the perception that the new ones could be inaccurate.

But the tests showed even the old-style meters, which were replaced citywide this summer, were accurate.

The conclusion, the mayor said, was that utility bills for the final billing period of the summer were mainly high due to air conditioning and other power-hogging appliances. A slightly longer time period for the bills also contributed.

Some of the tests were done with concerned residents watching so they could see the results.

In a few instances, utilities workers were allowed to look around properties to find factors that could contribute to increased bills — and found fish ponds, pool pumps, chest freezers, and dehumidifiers that use a great deal of energy.

“They realized at that point they were just using a lot of electricity and they were trying to figure out how to use less without feeling like they were living in a cave,” Costilow said of one couple that had voiced concerns to city council.

“People were pretty amazed,” he said. “I think our utility workers have, through this process, really made some progress. They’ve really shown we are working for the public.”

Give a chance for a do-over, Costilow said he would not roll out a new meter system in June, July, and August when temperatures are high. The transition would have been far easier if done during a time of the year when folks consume less electricity, he said.

Residents who believe their bills are inaccurate are urged to visit the Amherst utilities office on Park Avenue. If they’re not happy with the results, Costilow said his door at city hall is open.

Anger over power bills has prompted the city to push forward with plans to launch a new billing system.

The mayor said he wants to have it in place by the end of this year rather than in the latter part of 2019.

The new system will produce bills with a better explanation of charges and how energy consumption affects the total due, as well as the duration of the billing period.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk