Pacific Gas & Electric affirmed this week that it does not bill some 68,000 customers monthly on their actual meter readings?instead, the utility estimates those bills. That revelation caused some consternation among regulators and consumers alike. If there is a deliberate pattern of skipping meter reading, ?That would be a serious breach of a utility?s obligations,? according to California Public Utilities Commission member Carl Wood. The commission authorizes rates sufficient to provide adequate service, including meter reading, added Wood. PG&E representatives discounted the number of estimates, noting that they were less than 1 percent of the total meters. Southern California Edison, too, estimates a significant number of meters, about 0.5 percent, or around 23,000, according to utility spokesperson Marlon Walker. San Diego Gas & Electric ran into similar consumer scrutiny in 2001. At the time, the Utility Consumers? Action Network reported that estimated accounts increased by 70 percent from 1996 to 2000. The utility maintained that its meter-reading quality did not decline. The consumer group and the utility settled the case, which included a new metric by which meter-reading accuracy could be judged, according to Michael Shames, UCAN executive director. The cost of meter reading is figured during utility general rate cases. Because the general rate case is only a forecast, utilities could be using the money for other things, according to Matt Freedman, The Utility Reform Network attorney.