FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – A Fort Worth woman says she almost had a heart attack after opening a recent natural gas bill. Atmos Energy said Michelle Washington owed $597 for the previous month’s usage.

Washington said it didn’t make sense, especially since she had been actively trying to get her already-low bill, even lower. The weather was warming up, and she had made a point to use her oven less frequently. Her previous month’s bill had been around $20, so Washington felt confident the next bill would be about the same.

It wasn’t.

According to Atmos, her usage had increased 2,885 percent.

“I just knew when I called them on the phone they would go, ‘oh Ms. Washington, we’re so sorry! We made a mistake,” said Washington.

Instead, the customer service representative told her technicians had not been able to read her meter for a year, so the company had been estimating her usage since June 2017. Washington said her bills during that time were not unusually low, and none of them said it was an estimate. Every bill she showed Consumer Justice had a “meter read” date.

Michelle Washington’s Atmos Energy meter

Washington discovered her meter was covered in foliage. She says no one from Atmos ever alerted her to the problem, so she had no idea until receiving the big bill. Atmos offered to set up a payment plan over a 17-month period, but Washington said she knew she didn’t owe the money. That’s when she called Consumer Justice.

Days after we contacted Atmos, the company erased the big bill and replaced Washington’s meter with a wireless meter-reading device. A spokesperson called it a “unique situation and an isolated incident.” See the full statement below.

As for Washington, her most recent bill was back to normal – right around $20. “I just want to say I do appreciate you guys so much for your help!”

Atmos Energy sent Consumer Justice the following statement on the matter:

Ms. Washington’s billing issue is a unique situation and an isolated incident. Ms. Washington was not receiving a correct bill due to a meter reading error on our part therefore we have adjusted her bill.
We have been in direct contact with Ms. Washington and have replaced the meter index and installed a wireless meter reading device at her home. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience to our customer and we are confident her new wireless meter reading device will help prevent this from happening in the future.