When your power company acts like the Three Stooges

Remember the Three Stooges routine where each Stooge points at the other two, and nobody makes a decision or accepts responsibility?

That’s what Jacquie Marzano says it was like dealing with Oncor Electric Delivery in Texas and its subcontractor after a smart-meter installation at her house in November blew out her swimming pool equipment. Her pool didn’t get cleaned for weeks, and she couldn’t get the help and answers she needed.

“They were in a circle, pointing left,” she said, then mimicking them. “It’s not our responsibility. It’s their responsibility.”

As readers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Dave Lieber Watchdog column first learned, so began six months of failed attempts to get the subcontractor, Standard Utility of Fort Worth, to give a definitive response to her claim for $2,000 in repairs, she says.

“I called. I sent e-mails. I sent registered mail. I left messages on their website.”

I contacted Oncor, the utility that supplies electricity to retail providers and maintains transmission lines. A spokeswoman told me that Standard Utility is one of its main smart-meter installers.

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Oncor has overseen the installation of nearly 2 million smart meters in its service territory. Standard Utility has installed hundreds of thousands.

Oncor says Marzano, who lives in Dalworthington Gardens, did not send in the required paperwork. A claims adjuster needed an invoice showing the cost of repairs. Marzano did send an invoice for the first part of repairs, then sent an estimate for the rest. She hoped to receive a payment and use it for the rest of the repairs.

It was a standoff.

Oncor says it’s unlikely that the smart-meter installation damaged the pool equipment anyway.

And, generally, if an installation does cause damage, a contractor’s insurance pays the claim, Oncor says.

Tom Brockenbush, Standard Utility’s chief financial officer, told me in an interview, “Typically, in the past, our liability goes to the meter.”

If anything is damaged inside the house, “then we would not be responsible.” Complaints about smart-meter installations are very rare, he said.

After he studied the case file, Brockenbush sent an e-mail with more information. He called the confusion with Marzano unfortunate and described it as “a breakdown in communication between all of the parties involved.”

“Neither Standard Utility nor Oncor discovered any evidence to suggest that the damages were the result of either an Oncor equipment failure or an installation problem by Standard Utility.

“Nonetheless, it was Standard Utility’s decision to pay the claim to ensure a positive customer experience.”

A Standard Utility representative recently delivered the rest of the $2,000 claim to Marzano. She says that she is happy and that without a Watchdog intervention, “we would still be going round and round.”

Oncor says a smart-meter installation should cause a brief loss of electricity — “a blink” — followed by a reconnection that should not cause an electrical surge.

A spokeswoman said the company appreciates being notified of any problems with its contractors and recommends leaving a detailed message at the AskOncor.com website.

Aside from smart-meter installations, remember that Oncor, unlike power companies elsewhere, does not provide its customers with any surge protection.

The Watchdog recommends that all sensitive equipment, such as computers, kitchen appliances, TVs and stereo equipment, be connected to individual surge protectors. For added protection, have an electrician install a “whole-house surge protector” on the main line to protect appliances as well as phone and cable lines.

More Watchdog Nation reports on smart meters:

Meet the dog that hates smart meter installers

Here’s the latest on electricity smart meters

How to protect your home from electricity surges


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