PGW Nightmare: Family Has Gas Shut Off Over “Secret” Gas Line

Told no gas until they pay 11 years of bills they didn’t know they had.

(This piece has been updated to include comment from a PGW spokesperson and a copy of the termination of service notice Anderson-Bell says she received.)

LiRon Anderson-Bell and her husband Glenn relocated from Blue Bell to a big house in the Overbrook Farms neighborhood of Philadelphia in 2003 after they fell in love with the tree-lined community just minutes from the Eastern edge of the Main Line. But now their love affair has turned into a veritable nightmare after a visit this week from PGW.

LiRon Anderson-Bell

LiRon Anderson-Bell

Several weeks ago, the University of Pennsylvania graduate got a letter from PGW telling her that they needed to install a new gas meter, as the utility company has been doing throughout the city. She got on the phone to schedule a visit, and the workers came out on Tuesday of this week. But by the end of the day, PGW was accusing her and her husband of theft, and they shut off the family of four's gas.

In the process of turning off the gas to install the new meter in the basement of her home, the technician servicing the property realized that some of the gas-dependent appliances did not shut off. Further investigation was needed, he said, so he called in his supervisor, and within a few hours, a series of PGW trucks and personnel came out to the house to poke around.

Workers demolished part of the interior basement wall and found gas lines that bypassed the PGW meter and tapped directly into the main gas line. Anderson-Bell says that she never knew it was there, because it had been concealed within the cement wall. PGW ripped the equipment out of her wall and handed her a termination notice that states that her gas was shut off for "Theft of service or tampering with utility equipment …"

"PGW staff told my husband that we will receive a bill for the unbilled PGW service to our residence going back to taking ownership in 2003," she says. "And that our service will not be restored until we pay the bill in full. We have not been able to get a date by which we will receive the bill."

"The techs were very sympathetic," she says. "But they basically say that theft is theft. Doesn't matter if there are children. Doesn't matter if there are elders. Because they have no way of proving that it was not me."

Anderson-Bell says that no one in her family had any clue that there was an illegal gas line present, and she maintains that she has never been late with a single PGW bill since moving into the house in 2003. And when she got the notice from PGW to set up a time for a meter replacement, she says she complied immediately. "These are not the actions of someone knowingly stealing gas service," she points out.

But that's not to say that the family didn't think there was something a little strange going on with their gas service.

After several months in the house, they noticed that the PGW bill was around the same amount each month, so they called PGW to make sure that the house wasn't on one of those "budget plans" that charge you the same amount of money throughout the year. Nope, PGW told them, according to Anderson-Bell.

And after the cold winter of 2003-’04, the PGW bill had only risen slightly. Again, she says she called PGW, but she says that they told her that everything looked fine. So, understandably, the family just shrugged off the anomaly. A decade later, they are paying the price.

"I have no way of knowing which previous owners are responsible for the illegal gas hookup, but we have pumped close to $100,000 into this house," says Anderson-Bell. "None of us have any way of knowing how long this gas line bypass has been in place, yet PGW says that we are responsible for 11 years of charges. How is that legal and reasonable? We have paid a bill in good faith every single month since July 2003."

Anderson-Bell has fired off letters to Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. and PGW VP Doug Oliver, formerly a spokesperson for Mayor Nutter. But so far, no response and no gas. "I don't even know how much the bill is going to be that I am supposed to pay," she says. "So I don't know how many tens of thousands of dollars I am going to have to come up with, and there's no way I am going to be able to come up with it. But right now, I just need them to turn my gas on immediately, and we can fight about this later."

According to Barry O'Sullivan, PGW's director of corporate communications, the shut-off is not related to a bill. "Any by-pass that circumvents the gas meter represents a real safety hazard — for customers and their neighbors," he said. "Our procedure is to immediately interrupt the flow of gas to any unsafe and unsanctioned system. In addition, as our own system has been compromised by the addition of a by-pass, we must also temporarily discontinue service to the property. Unfortunately for the customer, until the PGW system can be repaired and we can verify that all gas appliances at the property are properly installed, we cannot restore service. That's true irrespective of any findings from the investigation."

O'Sullivan contends that PGW "has not accused anyone currently at the property of theft. At the same time, an illegal by-pass was discovered (hence the 'theft of service' notice) at the property so we need to run our investigation, inconvenient as that is."

As to Anderson-Bell's assertions that PGW workers on site told her the restoration of her service was contingent upon a bill being paid, O'Sullivan says, "I'm not sure why anyone would say that. I can tell you that no one I've spoken to here is talking about issuing a bill to Ms. Anderson-Bell. Our focus is exclusively on correcting an unsafe situation and trying to find out who installed the by-pass and when. The results of that investigation will dictate how we proceed and what we can do to accommodate the restoration of Ms. Anderson-Bell's gas service."

Below: The termination form Anderson-Bell says she received.

(Photos courtesy LiRon Anderson-Bell)

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  • matt

    might want to find out which one of the previous owners was a plumber. Tapping into a gas line without exploding yourself takes some know how

  • PGW Corporate Communications

    This story is highly inaccurate. PGW has not accused anyone currently residing at the property of theft, and nobody has been asked to pay any amount of money to have their service restored. Nor was service terminated because of any unpaid for gas.
    I reached out to the journalist who concocted this story, but have not heard back.

    • Rhino74

      So the home owner is lying as well? Isn’t this libelous then? PGW should probably sue both the magazine and the homeowner for the false statements. Could it be that she received a notice for tampering/theft? Why would she state for the record that her gas was shut off if it wasn’t?

    • LiRon Anderson-Bell

      PGW – I am the homeowner profiled in Mr. Fiorillo’s article and this is absolutely what happened. This dispute will not be settled in the public comment section of a magazine article, but please do not add insult to injury by suggesting that the information in the article is false.

      The post-termination notice literally states that the service is being shut off for theft or tampering. The technicians and supervisors who were present DID tell us we would need to pay the back amount in full to have service restored. It is also true that we have not even been told the full amount we are being held responsible for. If we are not being accused of theft, then TURN MY GAS BACK ON. Please.

    • Frank Rizzo

      PGW sell yourselves already.

    • Ashley

      PGW Corporate Communications, what you just wrote is entirely inaccurate when if you look directly above at the article, it is clear that the notice the homeowner received says “We shut off the gas because. . . X Theft of Service.” Is the homeowner and every reader blind? This can’t be a meaningful dialouge if you skim the article and copy and paste the exact same statement made by Barry O’Sullivan. It’s clear that your office may claim that the reason for discontinuing service is something else, but it is also clear what the notice said. So your office needs to contact the homeowner and send a revised notice, cut on her service and apologize for the incorrect notice. It’s a shame that you are going to try to slander the journalist just because you don’t like the truth.

  • Taxpayer

    PGW is a dysfunctional and mismanaged disaster. It’s time to sell and privatize it.

    • Eagles fan 316

      I’d like to hear you say that if they sell and your gas bill goes up 30%.

  • alex hatcher

    Mediaguy, what appliances were being fed by the illegal line?

    • Frank Rizzo

      A toilet & a toaster

  • Liz

    This happened to me in January 2010. PGW came out to investigate a gas leak in my neighbors house and found that my gas line was illegally hooked up (this was news to me as a tenant in a rental property). Rather than give me ANY notice of termination of service, they simply shut off my gas on a Saturday night. Mind you, this was January 2010 (winter of record breaking snow storms), so I was without heat, hot water and cooking gas for three weeks. Every time I went to talk to PGW about it, they said they were in the process of investigating. Meanwhile, I was told to run electric heaters (both dangerous and expensive) in order to ensure my pipes didn’t burst. PGW is a mess. I’m glad I moved out of the city and no longer have to deal with their incompetence.

  • PGW Corporate Communications

    Alex, as you can appreciate, while we’re looking into what happened at the property in question, we’re limited in terms of the specific information that can be shared.
    What I can say is that any by-pass that circumvents the gas meter represents a real safety hazard – for customers and their neighbors. Our procedure is to immediately interrupt the flow of gas to any unsafe and unsanctioned system. In addition, as our own system has been compromised by the addition of a by-pass, we must also temporarily discontinue service to the property.
    Unfortunately for the customer, until the PGW system can be repaired and we can verify that all gas appliances at the property are properly installed we cannot restore service. That’s true irrespective of any findings from the investigation.
    To reiterate: PGW has not accused anyone currently at the property of theft. At the same time, an illegal by-pass was discovered (hence the ‘theft of service’ notice) at the property so we need to run our investigation, inconvenent as that is.

    • T_LIz

      ^why does this comment seem like it was written by PGW and not LiRon?

      • T_Liz

        A second ago this post was under the name LiRon Anderson-Bell

        • Frank Rizzo

          PGW could be a Fortune 500 company but it’s a corrupt cess pool of scammers wearing suits…SELL PGW

    • ec

      Then why did you say that the story was concocted? That would imply that the entire story is false, which is not the case. The fact of the matter is that the homeowner is without gas and has limited information with respect to restoring her service. Perhaps you should choose your words more carefully when commenting on articles in a public forum.

  • BustEmUp!

    PGW like PECO is a monopoly. Fight them and they turn off your service. Try and get a lawyer to help you, NOPE! They don’t want to face repercussions from these bully companies. The fact that city council and the mayor’s office ignore the homeowner shows the power these companies have to ruin your life without consequences.

  • Ron L

    PGW is just another example of unchecked bureaucracy where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. As a result, Philadelphians have to foot the bill for this mis managed entity. I agree with Taxpayer. It’s time to privatize!

  • Billy B

    Surely you can leave the gas on if you installed a new meter to the proper line and shut off the other line!!!!!! The customer even inquired to pgw about the bill not being correct a few times!!!!! Your incompetence in this matter is astounding. How would you even figure out how much gas was used if it wasn’t metered? Is it possible that one of pgws workers took a shortcut at some point and installed the line? Just call it a no fault and turn the gas on. The level if stupidity in this matter is baffling!!!!

    • Frank Rizzo

      You sounds very ignorant. Don’t comment on things that you have no idea about, your opinion brings zero to the adult table. Shhhh.

      • Billy B

        Yeah and are they gonna add in the bills they were already paying? How could a gas company not figure out that a gas bill didn’t go up I’m the winter? And the customer even called them to question it. You are the one that needs to look at your own stupidity- Frank Rizzo

        • Frank Rizzo

          Yea they would add the bills they are already paying, you are a genius! That means they’d be paying for all the natural gas usage and not just half! Wow, are you sure your not employed by PGW.

          • Billy B

            Yeah I sure don’t work for pgw! So genius how do they no what the heat was set at? How many hot showers? How much cooking? So they just assume everything was on all the time? Sounds like you work for pgw maybe?

          • Frank Rizzo

            Im the former Mayor of Philadelphia A-hole

          • Frank Rizzo

            Billy boy

          • Billy B

            Lol ok- You sound like work for the PPA get off your phone and write your little tickets from that bush your hiding behind

        • Rose B.

          Not everyone uses gas heat. Some homes have oil burners and others use electric heaters.

    • Frank Rizzo

      PGW will add the btu’s from the appliances on tampered fuel line

  • disqus_JjYnU5MRNk

    How will they determine the amount owed? If it was for heat and hot water, it seems like it could be a quite hefty bill. How will the homeowner know the past due amount is accurate?

  • nissinphilli

    PGW, is seriously “special,” I was told to pay $78.00 by PGW, in which I sent them an $80.00 check, then they sent me a bill for $80.46 and told me that I was in default because I was .46 short on a bill that hadn’t even, been created, at that said time, oh btw and did I mention that it’s not even due until September 2014! When I called customer service because I saw a call on my phone, the woman by the name of _J_, said that “their computers are really messed up and that I should fight the issue because she could see the $78.00 , as originally requested by PGW, on her screen.” PGW, it is time to close up shop and begin anew!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Matt Stafford

    I F******* hate PGW with a passion. Their policies with placing leins are completely backwards and makes it so they can’t collect as much $ and also in the processes makes everyone upset.

  • Rose B.

    These gas thieves are stealing from the rest of us who do pay our full bills. A utility in the Midwest used thermal imaging and gas and electric bill data to look for houses that were heated but had no gas or electric bill. They found a mind-boggling 11% of residences were in this category. Then in addition there are the conniving by-pass thieves who generate a bill but pull scams like the one in this report. To keep my gas bill down, in the winter I let the house temperature drop into the 50’s, and wear warm clothing, scarves and even gloves indoors – but these thieves no doubt are walking around their houses in shorts and short sleeves in mid-winter. It’s maddening! Please PGW, connect with PECO and compare the data! Find the thieves! Cut them off and let them freeze!