Xcel Energy's Random Inspections Cause Confusion

Updated: 07/18/2013 7:23 AM KSTP.com By: Leslie Dyste

Imagine coming home one day and finding out your natural gas supply had been cut off without warning. You have to call your gas company to come out and turn it back on.

Xcel Energy randomly inspects gas meters every year. Occasionally that can cause some confusion for customers.

Last month, a Minnesota woman came home to find a green tag on her door from Xcel Energy. It said her gas had been turned off, but it didn't say why.

"I saw this green sign on my door, and when I came into the house I looked at it right away. It said my gas had been turned off. My immediate thought was it was because of storm damage," Ruth Hogenson said.

But Hogenson looked around her Woodbury neighborhood and didn't see green tags on any other doors. The tag on her door listed a number of reasons why her gas might have been shut off, but none of them were checked.

It simply said the homeowner should call Xcel Energy - her natural gas supplier. "They seemed surprised that I was calling. That my gas was off. And were struggling to tell me why it had been turned off."

It turns out the Hogensons were included in a little-known random sampling of gas meters by Xcel Energy. So little-known, even the media relations department wasn't fully aware of it.

Xcel Energy declined an on-camera interview but in a statement said, "We regret that our actions created a concern with this customer."

Hogenson said she can understand the need to inspect gas meters but didn't understand the timing because it occurred around the June 21 storm. "[It] really surprised me because I understood there were still 150,000 people out of power from the storm." She was also surprised there was no advance warning.

Xcel Energy says they do not send out letters warning customers in advance, but they do knock on doors. If a customer isn't home, they shut off the gas, do their inspection, and leave a tag asking them to call to have their gas turned back on, which usually happens within an hour.

CenterPoint Energy, which provides natural gas to more than 800,000 Minnesota customers, takes a different approach to a similar problem. They send letters asking customers to call and set up an appointment. They follow-up with a door knock and only shut the gas off without warning as a last resort.

"If we're going to be on their property doing any type of activity or work, we feel it's our obligation to notify them," Becca Virden with CenterPoint Energy said.

Hogenson says ultimately it was a minor inconvenience but, "It was alarming. It was more alarming after I realized it wasn't part of the power outage, that it was something else that… their employees (couldn’t) explain very well to us."

In its statement, Xcel says their "standard practice is to leave information with the customer that clearly explains what was done... but in this case that did not happen." The company says it's reviewing its customer communications process. 

Click here to read the full statement.