Editorials

EDITORIAL

Unlovely meter reading drives up gas costs

The Everett LNG terminal facility.

JONATHAN L. WIGGS / GLOBE STAFF

The Everett LNG terminal facility.

The unnecessary ordeal starts with voicemails from the utility company, robotically informing homeowners they must change their gas meter.

If for no reason but to stop the annoying calls, customers then agree to stay home during a scheduled time window when a technician might — or hey, might not — arrive to replace the equipment

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From the consumer’s perspective, it’s a needless hassle and a lost day. Gas companies don’t like the routine either, since it ties up their employees complying with the state law requiring replacement of meters every seven years.

Worst of all, such frequent replacements of fully functional devices serve no real safety or consumer-protection purpose. The state’s antiquated law dates to the 1930s, when meters were far less reliable and gas itself formulated differently. But the requirement has survived all efforts to update it for current technology.

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That would change if the Legislature approves a bill that would empower state regulators to set a replacement schedule based on the public interest, rather than an arbitrary timeframe. The bill would bring Massachusetts into line with most other states. In Connecticut, for instance, energy regulators can vary time frames for meter inspection if utilities can show the meters are up to snuff.

In addition to the annoyance, the vestigal requirement is also a hidden driver of energy costs in Massachusetts and an obstacle to greater efficiency. Changing the law would save about $10 million to $12 million every year, the utilities estimated in 2012. And it would allow engineers to spend their time on work that yields more benefits for consumers and the environment, like fixing gas leaks that release greenhouse gas into the
atmosphere.

Massachusetts has high energy costs, the result of myriad factors, including its location. Making the meter-replacement law more rational won’t solve that problem. But it’s one step that the Legislature could take to make sure that resources — and time — aren’t wasted on unnecessary tasks.

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