NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A coalition of cities is pushing for Atmos Energy to change the way it bills customers.

The Atmos Steering Committee, which negotiates on behalf of 150 cities in Texas, is proposing Atmos read meters every month.

Customers CBS 11 spoke to live in different zip codes, but they experienced the same shock: soaring Atmos bills that spanned between $300 and $600.

“They tried to tell me it was like a catch-up from the previous months,” said Shelagh Cacioppo.

“it’s an approach of, we’re right, you’re wrong, shut up and pay the bill,” said Phil Dunlop.

“If it’s ok to estimate my gas usage, I ought to be able to estimate how much I pay them,” John Dennis said.

After a CBS 11 investigation looked into skyrocketing bills in 2018, Atmos ended its practice of estimating gas usage during colder months.

But the company can still estimate bills between the months of May and October, as long as an actual meter reading has taken place in the past six months.

“It raised a red flag when we saw the stories up here being raised by your station and other media outlets about people complaining about their estimated bills,” said Geoffrey Gay, general counsel for the Atmos Steering Committee.

This week, Gay will pitch the state’s Railroad Commission on a rule proposal: have utilities read every meter, every month.

The Railroad Commission oversees the state’s oil and gas industry.

“It is stressful for any consumer to have to see an outrageous bill that they don’t understand and don’t seem to be consistent with that they believe their consumption to be,” Gay said.

The current rule lets utilities use estimated billing for up to six consecutive months.

But Gay calls the rule archaic. His proposal cites recent investments made by Atmos just in North Texas that he said should have improved the meter reading process:

-$30.7 million for advanced meter infrastructure by the end of 2017

-$719,000 for meter reading vehicles in 2012 and 2013

-$200,000 per year on average for meter-reading devices between 2011 and 2015

“There is no reason why we should continue to act as if we are back in the 70s and there is this occasional need to do estimated billings on consecutive months,” Gay said.

But even if the rule passes, would you know how to dispute your bill if it seemed inaccurate? Watch below:

How to read your meter:

-Read the dials from left to right

-Each dial represents one of the four numbers that makes up your reading. Gas meters measure gas usage in cubic feet.

-If the hand falls between numbers, round down to the lower number.

Gas meter with reading

Remember, you will have used gas between the date of your meter reading and when you receive your bill. So the reading on your meter may be slightly higher than the reading printed on your bill.

To dispute the bill, you can upload a picture of your meter reading to your Atmos account.

A spokesperson said the company will then review whether they should send someone to inspect your meter.

Or customers can call Atmos Customer Service at 888-286-6700.

Under the rule proposal, utilities could occasionally estimate customer usage in the event of extreme weather but estimation could not exceed two consecutive months.

An Atmos spokeswoman said as a matter of policy, the company already will not estimate bill for more than two consecutive months.

In response to the rule proposal, Atmos Energy released the following statement:

“This rule proposal is just the first step in a petition process that may not be resolved for months. Next, the Atmos Cities Steering Committee (ACSC) will present to the Railroad Commission, where the Commissioners will decide to open the rule for review or take no action. We look forward to following the process as it unfolds and will provide input when requested by the Railroad Commission.

We want to remind our customers if they ever have a question about the accuracy of their bill, we ask that they please call us immediately at 888-286-6700. If the customer isn’t satisfied with the agent’s explanation of their bill, they can ask to speak to a supervisor. For even faster results, customers may take a picture of the meter and submit it to us at our website through our Account Center, and we can review the bill that way. Customers may also request that we send a technician to read their meter and confirm their actual consumption.”