I got two surprises in my gas bill today. The first really pisses me off. The second confuses me.

The first is that they “estimated” my gas usage. Though if they used anything as advanced as mathematics in estimating my gas usage, it would surprise me. Somehow, they thought that during the shortest (and albeit coldest) month of the year, I would manage to use 3.7 TIMES my average monthly usage; That the gas I used in February would some how be approximately half of ALL of the gas that I used from July up until February. My highest “Actual” reading is right around 4K cubic feet. They “estimate” that during the past 28 days, I used 14K cubic feet. And, if for some reason I can’t/don’t pay their ridiculous estimate, they’ll tack on a late payment charge of 1.5% per month – that’s 18% per year. That’s more than 3 TIMES my mortgage rate, for a “loan” that amounts to nothing but accounting shenanigans on their part.

After a few moments of rage, however, I figured out that it’s not exactly corporate theft gone wrong. It’s blackmail. There’s a box on the “coupon” I’m supposed to return with my payment that says

Avoid Estimated Bills
Enter your meter reading – day or night – at www.dom.com. It tells you how and when to read the meter for best results. You’ll need your account number, zip code, a Personal ID number (usually the last four digits of your Social Security number) and your meter reading.

Now, their strategy is clear. Crank the estimates up to ridiculous proportions, and then suggest that if I read the meter and tell them what it is, I won’t be subject to this hidden penalty. They save money by not having to send meter-boy around. Either way, they save money. Either they get more of mine up front, or they save on meter-boy costs.

This, of course starts, to explain the second surprise in the gas bill. It was a sort of Misty Rose insert with a reverse white-on-black head text that shouted Notice of Proposed Rate Changes. It continues with “Dominion Peoples if filing a request with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to decrease your natural gas rates as of October 1, 2005”. I probably read that sentence three times. I still figured “decrease” was a typo until I read the rest of the notice. “Under Dominion Peoples proposal, the overall decrease in revenues is approximately 1.6 percent…” Fortunately, I have recourse against this shameless act!

Forms for the filing of a formal complaint may be obtained by you upon request to the Pennsylvania Public Utility commission, Harrisburg, PA 17120. The timely filing of a formal complaint entitles you to participate in a hearing at which you may present testimony and question witness for the Company.

If you know me, you know that I’m at least moderately tempted to file a complaint just for the opportunity to question witness for the Company:

At precisely what time did you first learn about this possible rate decrease, Mister Johnston? … Ah HA! According to earlier testimony, you sent an email to Ms. Faloe with the subject line Rates too high?, DID YOU NOT, MR JOHNSTON?!?

Fortunately, as mentioned elsewhere in the Misty Rose notice, “The Company will have the burden to prove that the proposed decrease is reasonable.”

I love too, how “The Company” refers to itself in Capitalization. It’s like God talking about Himself in The Bible.

Oh, for some honest to god competition.