As long as utilities have been using meters to measure electric consumption, some people have been trying to slow down the devices’ methodical pace or bypass them altogether.
However it is done, it’s against the law and dangerous – potentially fatal.
“It’s a problem for every utility,” said Matt Bentke, Bluebonnet’s chief operating officer. “We’re a member-owned cooperative, so when someone tampers with or bypasses one of our meters, they’re stealing from everyone. Every kilowatt-hour someone steals has to be paid for by the rest of our members.
“And there’s a public-safety concern, too,” Bentke said. “Electrical equipment is safe when used in the way it was designed. But tampering with meters is extremely dangerous. That’s why we aggressively go after people who tamper with our meters and steal electricity.”
Bluebonnet reports cases of meter tampering and theft of electricity to the sheriff’s department in the county where it occurs. On average, we report about one case per month for prosecution. In Texas, meter tampering is a felony punishable by up to two years in jail.
Sometimes, a meter is measuring accurately, but it’s measuring stolen power, usually after electric service had been disconnected. In those cases, we may assess a charge up to $800 and require payment for electricity used since the tampering occurred. We have assessed 23 meter-tampering charges in 2012 through July 31. We usually discover the power theft when a meter that’s been disconnected starts reporting usage.
Bluebonnet’s field personnel and our member service representatives are trained to look for signs of meter tampering or theft. Often a member will call to report a light on at a house where power has been disconnected, or a lineman will drive by a house that’s been disconnected and sees a light.
Our advanced technology also helps detect meter tampering and theft. Every one of our more than 82,000 meters is automatically read every day. Each reading is processed through a meter data management system and a sophisticated billing system. These systems can detect meter reads that are abnormal or suspicious. When that happens, we send someone to the location to inspect the meter for defects or damage.
To report a meter that has been tampered with or one that looks unusual, call a member service representative at 800-842-7708 during normal business hours.