Archive for October, 2007

Moonlight Bicycle Ramble
October 31, 2007

You know it’s a busy week when Wednesday at 9:30pm is the first chance I get to update my blog with last weekend’s happenings. But I wanted to share one memorable event.

Saturday was the Moonlight Bicycle Ramble, the 35th for the City of Houston, coordinated by Bike Houston but the first for me and my husband. Find out what Bike Houston is all about here: http://www.bikehouston.org/

It’s a great event. About 1800 cyclists lined up at the George R. Brown Convention Center at 2am Sunday morning for a 16.4 mile ride through Houston. We took lots of pictures, but most of them came out really dark.

I promise more blogging soon… and answers to your questions.

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Do you know the difference?
October 26, 2007


For the past month, we’ve uncovered changes to your electric bill. We are continuing our investigations because of the enormous response from consumers (up to 400 e-mails and even more phone calls). In a lot of the feedback, it seems many electric customers are confused about the difference between remote-read radio electric meters and digital/ advanced meters. The meter to the right is an advanced meter.

CenterPoint Energy plans to begin installing advanced meters in every home in its service area (1.77 million customers) in 2008. It will take 5 years for all of the meters to be replaced. CenterPoint says it will allow them to significantly decrease the number of meter readers it employs (currently about 300) because advanced meters will beam your meter reading right back to CenterPoint’s offices. How will CenterPoint pay for the upgrade? It plans to charge every customer $2.50 every month for about 12 years. Even if you’re one of the last customers to get the new digital meter (say they don’t install yours until year 5 of the project in 2013), you will begin paying the $2.50 fee in 2008 along with everyone else.


The meter to your left is a remote-read radio meter, also called an OMR by CenterPoint. Many customers already have these meters. Meyerland homeowner Robert Goodfriend took this picture of his. These types of meters can not transmit your meter reading all the way back to CenterPoint offices, but they will send a signal a much shorter distance, allowing a meter reader to get the signal from the street, without ever stepping foot on your property. Goodfriend, like hundreds of others was charged $69 for this meter. He didn’t actually want it; but CenterPoint insisted its meter readers could not get into his back gate (left unlocked.. and accessible for the last 6 years). After 3 consecutive estimated readings, CenterPoint sent Goodfriend a letter warning him his power would be disconnected if he didn’t pay the $69 for a remote-read radio meter.

Now here’s the kicker: Next year, when CenterPoint begins installing those advanced meters, they will replace the remote-read radio meter that Goodfriend just paid for with a new advanced meter… also at his cost!

Stay tuned.. we’re working on another story with Goodfriend about a new charge on his electric bill. You may find it on yours too. More to come…

Work from Home
October 24, 2007

I just got back to work from a short vacation… when I had time to do all sorts of exciting things… like sift through old magazines, ripping out recipes and anything I might want to save before I toss them into my recycling bin. I came across an article you might find useful… “How to Make Money at Home.” I have to cite the source. It’s from the “Woman’s Day” Sept. 2007 issue.

Consumers often ask me where to find legitimate work from home jobs. This issue listed several I thought I’d share.

Alpine Access is a major call service center whose employees take calls for companies like J. Crew, Express Jet, 1-800-Flowers and the IRS. Alpine Access currently employs more than 7,500 work-at-home customer service agents. The typical hourly rate is $9, but agents can earn up to $20 an hour with incentives and bonuses. Check them out at www.alpineaccess.com.

Other companies that hire virtual call agents:

What about being an online juror? I’ve never been picked to sit on a real jury… so I figure this is the next best thing. The article says companies will pay you to sit on mock juries to give attorneys and other jury consultants feedback on cases they are currently handling. The cases are real, but your verdict will do little more than give those involved a prediction of how things might go. You can earn fees ranging from $5 to $50. Be sure to read all the disclaimers and details. Go to:

Alright.. now this issue is headed for the green bin!

Dear CenterPoint
October 17, 2007

If you’ve missed our series on “Your Electric Bill,” you really should check out the stories:
http://www.click2houston.com/investigates/14342589/detail.html

The response we’ve received from consumers like you has been overwhelming… but one e-mail I received yesterday made me laugh. I asked Tom Carlson if I could share it with you.

“For over 20 years HL&P, Reliant and Centerpoint have been able to read our meter even though the back yard was enclosed with a 6′ wooden fence and for 12 of those years we had a Rottweiler who was sometimes outside.

Suddenly over the last few months they have been estimating our bill at nearly double the actual usage. I called Reliant and asked for an actual reading and on the last couple of occasions Centerpoint claims they can’t get in the back yard because the gate was locked. There has never been a lock on this gate and in fact I moved the latch to the outside of the gate around a month ago to improve access.

We just spoke to Reliant again today and they seem to be getting frustrated with Centerpoint and called while my wife was on the phone. The reply was that the gate was locked and there had been problems there before.

I am attaching a picture of the latch to show how simple it is but to make it easier for them I left it unlatched and attached the note advising them that if they can’t pull the handle (my 5’2″ wife can open it) then I will be happy to prop it open (and fight it out with the homeowners association).

CENTERPOINT

Since you seem to have trouble opening the gate I have left it unlatched for you. Please grab the handle at the right ——————–} (That way) and pull. If you still have a problem please call and I will be glad to prop the gate open and line the route to the meter with roses.

BTW – why have you been able to read the meter for over 20 years and suddenly are incapable??

My feelings are that if they want to get rid of the meter readers and reduce labor costs, then they should provide the transmitters and insure that they are accurate. BTW – we were also told that we are no longer allowed to read our meters. I will be writing letters to the PUC and the Governors office and hope they are flooded with protests. Keep up the good work – we need the support. Take care.”

Keep your e-mails coming and we’ll keep asking CenterPoint and the PUC the questions that need to be answered.

Sweet Revenge
October 12, 2007

Prosecutors say he terrorized Houston drivers for decades. Tonight, a Houston tow truck driver at the center of a Local 2 Investigation is headed to prison.

A Harris County jury sentenced Michael Raitano to 18 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. We first told you about Raitano and his lengthy history of illegally towing cars back in 2005.

In 2006, we showed you how Raitano refused to repay drivers towing and storage fees even when a Judge ruled he illegally towed their vehicles. Here’s our story: http://www.click2houston.com/news/9504562/detail.html

Russell Turbeville, the head of the Consumer Fraud Division at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted the case. Turbeville told me Raitano was actually found guilty of theft of more than $200,000- the cost of the vehicles he wrongfully towed just from early 2006 through June 2007.

Unfortunately, Turbeville said he doesn’t expect to see a dime from Raitano. If he does pay anything , the money won’t go to the drivers owed money. It will go to the “Roads, bridges and ferries” fund.