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Consumer group warns of problems as Wisconsin utilities seek to reduce frequency of natural gas meter inspections
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PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION | REQUEST BY UTILITIES

Consumer group warns of problems as Wisconsin utilities seek to reduce frequency of natural gas meter inspections

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Consumer advocates are raising concerns about proposals by two Wisconsin utilities that would allow fewer inspections of natural gas meters.

When the Public Service Commission authorized installation of advanced meters more than 10 years ago, the commission expressed concerns about no longer having a person check the meter once a month and ordered the utilities to do annual inspections.

Alliant argues the yearly inspections are unnecessary and have cost about $4.4 million more over the past decade than doing three-year inspections. Xcel notes that annual surveys aren’t required by state or federal law and estimates it could save about $135,000 a year by doing them less frequently.

Alliant, which has installed about 170,000 advanced meters, reported an average of 6,225 problems per year. Xcel, which serves about 112,000 gas customers in western Wisconsin, found an average of 1,688 problems.

Alliant spokeswoman Annemarie Newman said the problems identified do not present immediate safety concerns and that reducing the frequency of surveys won’t affect service and will free up employees to do other maintenance. She said Alliant would continue to inspect about 11,500 public and business-district meters annually.

The Citizens Utility Board, which represents utility customer interests, is urging utility customers to contact the PSC about Alliant’s and Xcel’s requests.

CUB executive director Tom Content said the proposed change would save utilities little money and could allow problems to fester for years, and the public would never know about them.

“They found thousands of problems every year,” Content said. “The only reason we know about those problems is because of the reporting requirement.”

The PSC voted on Feb. 22 to reconsider the annual survey requirements. The deadline for comments is noon Monday.

CUB has asked that the commission deny the requests and launch a statewide investigation to study the issue in more detail as the use of automated meters is likely to continue.

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