How to Get a Good Deal from an Energy Marketer
I am often asked how to get a “good deal” in choosing an energy supplier?
In the past, my answer typically began with an explanation of how “deregulation” or “customer choice” developed (which gets me glassy-eyed looks), which was followed by general advice such as: determine the quality of supplier; review the terms and conditions and then the pricing.
However, as we are having renewals with our customers reoccurring for the 4th, 5th and 6th time, I think what these customers have told me is more relevant….
In addition, during our 12+ years we seen many, many processes from consultants, aggregators or in request for proposals, I have consolidated these experiences into what I believe is a list of best practices;
1. Assemble a copy of all your bills (either electric or gas) including the following (this will help you eliminate or question what a marketer sends you in step 2).
a. Identify the energy cost on the bill(s).
b. Identify the delivery cost on the bill(s).
c. Add up the total energy used (either kwh for electric or Therms for natural gas) for 1-12 months, pairing each month with the energy cost (the delivery cost will not change).
2. Contact marketers and ask them for a proposal for service.
a. A list is available at: http://realgyenergyservices.com/customer-services/web-links/ under each utility.
b. Eliminate the ones who do not reply.
c. For ones who reply, ask for a comparison for at least the last 12 months of how their proposal price compared to the utility cost. Again, eliminate those who do not respond.
d. Look at how the marketer’s pricing and the utility pricing are presented.
IN MANY CASES marketers may be above a utility in some months; they should be able to explain why.
AVOID those that are above the utility for 12 months in a row.
AVOID those marketers whose comparison does not accurately show the utility cost.
3. With the marketers who responded and sent you their pricing comparison, ask for their terms and conditions (contract or Agreement). Read their agreements paying special attention to the following;
a. Pricing; is it defined, how long does it last, and what happens when it ends?
b. Quantity; if you’re buying a fixed price make sure it says how much gas you’re buying at the fixed price and what happens if you use more or less than that amount. If you’re buying a variable rate, it should state it’s for all your usage or “open” quality.
c. Renewal; when do you have to give notice to terminate, what happens if you don’t?
d. Additional Services: is storage included, what about changing plans (from variable to fixed), taxes, service fee, online access, answered customer service (vs. automated attendants), etc. Some additional service is worth the price, some are not.
While not an official step, there are good reasons to eliminate a marketer from consideration (in other words, absolutely avoid), such reasons include;
a. No trade references or BBB accreditation.
b. An initial rate (fixed or variable) that lasts only 1-6 months and renews which is followed by a different (perhaps) vaguely defined price. These are known as “teaser” rates and will inevitably cost you more than the utility.
c. Language that doesn’t make sense is not clear in its intent or clearly favors the marketer.
d. A renewal date scheduled during the winter or summer. Make sure you can terminate your agreement for natural gas or electricity in April or May. This will give you the best period to switch or renew during a “low” energy usage period when pricing is more stable and you will not be under pressure to continue the agreement.
Tell Ameren to open up their natural gas service to Customer Choice
So Ameren wants you to believe that you are paying a “low” “stable” price for your natural gas. Well, if you compare their cost to the entire United States, they may have a point.
However, if you compare to your neighbor or local supplier you are paying more. That is; if your neighbor or business is with Realgy Energy Services.
Ameren is trying to retain its regulated monopoly position in natural gas by putting out these press releases saying; “we are AVERAGE!”.
So compare what happened in Illinois when electricity was opened to customer choice: the State of Illinois has saved $37 billion with Energy Choice; that’s compared to what you would have paid by staying with the utility (like Ameren, COMED, Peoples, etc).
Specifically Realgy Energy Services customers over the last 36 months have saved over 14.7% compared to Ameren; that is over $889.00.
Let them know you want the same choice for natural gas as you have for electricity. ICC contact info: Torsten Clausen, Director email@example.com
So as Ameren promotes being average in the USA, you can look to be better and tell Ameren to open up their natural gas service to Customer Choice.
Read the full Ameren Media Release, “Ameren Illinois Customers will see natural gas prices lower than national average for a second year“
Michigan Gas Costs—set to increase dramatically
With Consumers Energy approval for their “extraordinary rate cost recovery” the other Michigan utilities have quickly followed. Consumers’ June cost is $5.597, compared to Realgy’s price at $5.240 or a savings of $0.357/MCF. Consumers Energy has been approved to charge this cost until April 2015.
Recent filing to the MPSC discloses the following:
The current price in June is $4.24/MCF. In their U-17332 filings it looks like they are requesting an increase to $5.32 effective August 1.
The current price in June is $4.71/MCF. In their U-17331 filings it looks like they are requesting and have been approved for an increase to $5.278 effective the first cycle following the date of the order, June 6.
The current price in June is $4.62/MCF. In their U-17333 filings it looks like they are requesting an increase to $5.7525 effective July 1.
The full documents are available at: www.dleg.state.mi.us/mpsc/orders/filings
Realgy Energy Services is significantly less than the utility service. Additional information is available at; www.realgyenergyservices/michigan
Realgy’s Winter Settlement Guarantee
In order to demonstrate how committed Realgy is to providing savings; even during a Winter Vortex we are offering Realgy’s Winter Settlement Guarantee.
During this winter’s months starting January 2014, Realgy’s costs were above utility as it reconciled its settlement charges during each month of service. The utilities don’t reconcile their costs monthly. They accrue these costs and then seek to recover them.
So, the utility prices are increasing just as Realgy’s price is decreasing. Historically Realgy’s ManagedPriceTM service offers a lower price compared to the utility’s rate; this was distorted during the winter when Realgy passed through our settlement costs and the utilities did not. Now that the utilities will collect these costs, Realgy will again show significant savings compared to the utility rate.
This Guarantee puts into action Realgy’s tagline:
Invested in ServiceTM
The following is an explanation of how our Winter Settlement Guarantee will work; Winter Settlement Guarantee Terms Conditions
So what exactly is a fixed price for energy?
A fixed price in energy is given for either a pre-determined amount of energy or is given for an “all you consume”. You can think of it as either paying for an entire dinner or returning again to the buffet tables.
In the instance of a fixed price with a closed or set amount, the amount of energy used that exceeds a customer’s historical usage is charged at market price there the market price must be defined in the agreement.
Under a fixed price for open quantity agreement, all usage should be charged at the same rate. If there are circumstances beyond what is considered normal, other costs can be passed through; those circumstances must be defined in the agreement. Typically an examination of these terms doesn’t take place until the circumstances arise.
A winter vortex is anything but normal conditions.
The costs for delivering energy this winter has far exceeded any reasonable planning. Hence utilities and marketers are looking to pass through weather-related costs to the customers. As the article mentions, COMED, along with every utility, will be increasing costs associated with this winter.
Realgy knows our costs and settles them monthly. This prevents the cost recovery process or delay that utilities go through.
Realgy’s offers fixed prices for both open (all-you-can-eat) and closed (set amount) quantities. For this winter, our PriceWatchTM was offered as open quantity. Realgy typically offers seasonal fixed rates or for one year periods. This avoids having to have “re-openers” or uncertainty for both ourselves and the customer that are part of multi-year contracts.
Check out the whole Crain’s Chicago Business article “Frigid temps spur suburban power supplier to hike prices”
Realgy does not speculate on price changes
The CNBC article “Natural Gas could rise to $8: Energy expert” is an interview with a natural gas trader. One noteworthy facet of traders’ work is that they speculate on the changing cost of natural gas so as to profit from a price increase or decrease.
This is EXACTLY opposite from what Realgy does.
Realgy tries to buy natural gas so as to deliver the lowest price to our customers. The greatest variable in doing this is the changing volume of natural gas used by our customers.
Consumption or demand for natural gas; this is an instance where the trader and the energy marketer are both dependent on the weather (along with storage). Weather is the greatest driver in how much natural gas will be used; storage allows for a buffer in allowing the gas in storage to be readily available for use.
In the CNBC article, the discussion about the weather affecting consumption (withdrawals from storage equate to higher demand) is accurate. However, the coldest winter in 20 years would create disruption in any market place. So gas prices should rise when demand soars; the law of supply and demand dictates they do.
So the question is, by how much? Should they rise 27% in a day, followed by 15%, etc.? The answer is…probably not. This is when traders’ speculation drives pricing for which ALL users pay.
Realgy works with traders but does not speculate on price changes for natural gas or electricity.
Check out the CNBC article: “Natural Gas could rise to $8: Energy expert”
In Response to “Hedge funds bet on US gas shortage as cold boosts demand”
Written by Michael Vrtis, President of Realgy Energy Services in response to the Fiscal Times article “Hedge funds bet on US gas shortage as cold boosts demand”
Remember the financial crisis (is it over?)? Then this article should strike a familiar note. Hedge funds influencing the commodities market.
Inarguably the cost of natural gas has skyrocketed (some say far in advance of demand). As hedge funds buy NYMEX futures those purchases increase the prices as they create additional demand. This additional demand does nothing more than allow the hedge funds to place a bet on the NYMEX and their bet is then passed along to every user of natural gas. Accordingly, their speculation inflates the price of the NYMEX contract prices and therefore passes along these costs to ALL end-users (we call them customers) whose contract is tied to the NYMEX.
Part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform was to limit the influence of hedge fund speculating in the market.
Realgy cannot influence the NYMEX. However, the use of our proprietary ManagedPriceTM agreement minimizes reliance upon it. The ManagedPriceTM allows our energy buyers to use NYMEX, along with fixed price and INDEX purchases. The result is to minimize the impact of any single natural gas price and allow for consistent pricing that beats the utility costs. The history of the ManagedPriceTM program has shown it’s effective at mitigating short-term price spikes when used in conjunction with our Storage program and PriceWatchTM Service.
Check out the article in Fiscal Times: “Hedge funds bet on US gas shortage as cold boosts demand”
Natural Gas at Five Year High
Natural Gas prices have made a jump above $6.00 Dth or $0.60 / therm in the wholesale market; this is a 30% increase in the last couple days!
This increase looks speculative by traders but if it holds till February 26th it will set a five year high for the NYMEX first-of-month pricing and will keep bills high
The Bloomberg News article “Natural Gas Gains With Coffee as Commodities Jump; S&P 500 Rises” discusses the impact of natural gas and other commodities from the traders perspective.
Natural Gas price increased 27% on February 18, 2014
To keep track of the wholesale prices please enroll with Realgy’s NYMEX reports. It will send you NYMEX end-of-day reports daily.
Realgy is working to ensure our pricing stays as low as possible. Given we are all dealing with the coldest winter in 20 years and the highest energy prices in over 5 years.
In Response to “The global oil industry: Supermajordammerung”
Written by Michael Vrtis President of Realgy Energy Services in response to the Economist article The global oil industry: Supermajordammerung
The energy industry includes some of the largest companies and business entities in the world. Energy is by far the largest traded entity in the world (probably next to money!).
Realgy Energy Services represents a small piece in that picture but we witness the changes in the industry. In reading the following article the comparison between what goes on at the largest part of the energy industry is also apparent below.
Consider the following:
The major oil companies purposely outsourced technical expertise to service companies.
Countries with oil and gas resources had new found leverage against the majors; the ability to hire technical services were met with ready available financial resources (internal or external). The result; the majors were pushed out of some of the most developable oil fields in the world.
So the majors have to look elsewhere to keep their business operating. Which means they explore and develop in ever more remote locations (deep water gulf).
Analogous is States wanting to reduce the cost of energy for their residences/business (think of them as the countries). The utilities are the majors. So when regulators/States sought leverage over the utilities to lower costs; the creation of customer choice programs enabled the technical ability that existed in the marketplace (energy traders and schedulers) to directly serve consumers at a scale that allowed the energy marketers’ businesses to grow and flourish.
In both cases the consumer of energy has benefited from lower cost energy.
Check out The Economist article: The global oil industry: Supermajordammerung