Bill estimating reason behind spike in Atmos bills

The CEO of Atmos said a bill estimating system is the reason thousands of people saw their bills spike in recent months.

Alayna Laudermilk is one of many people who recently did a double take when they saw their last bill from atmos.

"It was $250, we thought surely there has to be a leak of some sort,” Laudermilk said.

The Laudermilks had never received a $250 bill from Atmos before -- even when the average temperature was colder than it was in march.

“I don't appreciate my bill being estimated,” Laudermilk said.

The CEO of Atmos brought up the billing issue before the Dallas City Council on Wednesday.

“We know there have been many questions from customers this winter about high bills, with particular concern about our practice of estimating those bills,” said Mike Haefner, Atmos President and CEO.

Haefner explained that Atmos began the practice of estimation to save on the cost of meter readers.

“We began estimating some bills last winter without many issues. This winter was clearly another story with the large variability of usage, from month to month and year to year in the winter months, our estimation process has clearly not resulted in the level of customer satisfaction we want to provide,” Haefner said.

The director of SMU's Maquire Energy Institute says the company likely didn't save any money by estimating bills.

“They created more problems than they solved,” said Bruce Bullock, Director of SMU’s Maguire Energy Institute. “It creates distrust in your customers, whatever you many have saved in meter readers, you likely have to make up on the phone lines with accountants.”

Atmos says even customers who are overpaying because of estimated billing will eventually have their totals adjusted downward to correct the balance.

But the CEO told council that Atmos will end the practice during winter months, when gas usage fluctuates the most.

“We tried winter estimation. It did not work, certainly did not work as we had hoped, we are changing course,” Haefner said.

SMU’s Bullock recommended finding out if a bill in questions was an estimate or an actual reading. People can also take photos of their meter and track the readings for themselves.

Atmos said anyone with questions should contact the company.