So January’s 2014 price impacts are beginning to be tallied by utilities and as expected, they are “significant”. The utilities faced the same circumstances as the energy marketer; the coldest weather in 20 years put unexpected demand pressure on natural gas and electricity pricing. The short-term impact caused significant costs to utilities, energy marketers, and every utility customer.
The following article specifies the issues that utilities must balance in order to recover costs when they have a customer choice program. Each utility must balance the fact they under-collected during a past period, while at the same time they know that raising rates will offer more incentive for customers to switch to energy marketers that offer lower rates or alternative services.
Seems like a catch 22 but is it? The question is not whether the utility will recover its cost (and the interest on carrying it), but rather who should pay it. The utility rightfully recognizes that customers are price sensitive and will look for alternatives when prices rise. When customers see the rate increase they may choose an energy marketer’s offer that has already collected those costs. Therefore, the utility will collect their uncollected costs from those fewer customers who remain with the utility. Rest assured, eventually they will recover these costs.
Realgy has the capability to know our costs for energy at the end of each month. This lets us effectively mitigate the expenses as they are incurring and recover only the costs for operational-flow orders, congestion, and settlement costs (costs imposed by utility practices) immediately. While this might be a rate shock for everyone, it eliminates any future “uncollected” costs that must eventually be recovered.
Realgy is working hard to continue to reduce the impacts of this cold weather affecting our customer energy costs. Winter won’t be over until the Blue Birds are singing!
Check out the Energy Choice Matters article: “SHOCK: Pennsylvania Utility Seeks Nonbypassable Charge to Recover Excessive Default Service Costs from January (Change from Quarterly to Annual Reconciliation Backfires)”
Written by Michael Vrtis President of Realgy Energy Services in response to the Crain’s article After six-year dispute, court orders $37 million ComEd refund
So how do all the various entities work in overseeing a regulated utility or why does it take 6 years to refund overcharges?
This Crain’s article provides a great example, let’s look at the 3 steps:
The utility; ComEd has a monopoly to delivery electricity in its area and is overseen (regulated) by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC). ComEd wants to be paid more for providing service and goes to the ICC requesting an increase in fees from customers in exchange for providing better and more useful service.
The regulator; ICC approves a rate increase (and the improved service) for which ComEd begins charging customer
The Consumer Advocate; Citizens Utility Board (CUB) is an agency that seeks to ensure ComEd treats its customers (mainly residential) fairly. Remember ComEd is a monopoly and can only charge what the ICC (in some cases politicians) approve. The CUB sees that the ICC approval of the rate increase unfairly treated the consumer to the benefit of ComEd. So, CUB sues ComEd and wins.
The Court; orders the ICC to review the matter. Again, the court won’t get into the technical review (that’s why they sent it to the ICC for re-review).
This step is about appealing (delaying) the previous decisions….. in this case the ICC agrees with CUB and removes those funds from the rate base which means ComEd (having already collected them) has to return them. They don’t have to return them as they were received but by some form of distribution of the funds.
Of course, ComEd appeals to the appellate court (they review lower court decisions) and lost. The appellate court would have to overturn the ICC on technical issues to agree with ComEd.
So let’s see if the money is returned. This example illustrates that a regulated utility has many people who watch them and those who watch and act to hold all sides accountable really do serve the public interest.
How does this affect Realgy’s customers; they will receive a refund (depending on how ComEd disperses them) as this was a charge related to distribution of the wholesale supplied energy in part provided by Realgy.
Check out the Crain’s article: “After six-year dispute, court orders $37 million ComEd refund”
Budget billing is a payment plan with your utility company to even out your monthly bills throughout the year. Although it sounds like a great idea, there are some disadvantages.
- Administrative fees – Some plans charge administrative fees which add to the total cost of your monthly bill.
- Fuel assistance – Low income customers who would normally qualify for fuel assistance to help with energy bills may not qualify if they use a budget billing plan.
- Balance due – If your energy bills for the year exceed your monthly payments, you will be required to pay the balance due. This defeats the purpose of budget billing and creates a real hardship for some customers on fixed incomes.
- May not be eligible – All budget billing plans are different but some may require a minimum 12 month billing history with the current utility company. If you recently moved to the area or have a bad credit history, you may not qualify.
- Strict payment rules – There is little patience for delinquent payments under most budget billing plans. Paying your bill late may result in being disqualified from the budget billing plan or having your power shut off.
- Quarterly adjustments – Some utility companies will adjust the monthly budget billing amount on a quarterly basis, so if you were planning your budget on a set amount for the full year be wary, it may change.
- May not get refunded – The hope is that if your payments exceed the amount of power used throughout the year that you will get a nice refund. Depending on your contract, that may not be the case.
- Moving – Depending on the timing and terms of your contract, there could be complications and extra fees if you plan on moving.
- Complicated contracts – Make sure you read the contract very carefully and understand all the terms and conditions.
- No Savings – While budget billing will even out your monthly bills you will still end up paying the same rate for your energy use as you would have if you were not signed up for budget billing.
The only way to truly lower your utility bills would be by enrolling with a Registered Energy Supplier like Realgy Energy Services. Check out Realgy Energy Services rates for June 2012 and see how much you could be saving www.realgyenergyservices.com
Many utility companies offer a budget billing plan to their customers. This basically means that you will end up paying a set amount each month for your utility bill. Your utility company will generally take an average of your past energy usage and estimate future gas or electric costs to come up with your monthly set amount. While this may seem like a great idea, you should carefully consider several things before enrolling.
First you should find out if a refund or credit will be issued if less energy is used. Some utility companies may not issue a refund if less power is used than planned. Additionally you may need to set aside extra money to cover the cost after the settle-up if more energy was used than the utility planned for.
Second you should also look at administration fees associated with the service. Many will charge a monthly fee. The fees will vary from utility to utility, but anything more than two or three dollars a month is too much for this service.
Third you should consider the contract that you sign when enrolling for the budget plan offered by your utility. There may be penalties applied if you move or turn off the service. For example you may end up paying extra when you move if you have used more power than was budgeted.
Fourth if you are enrolled with a Registered Energy Supplier such as Realgy Energy Services, it is important to find out if all charges will be covered under the budgeted amount. Some utilities will not allow for budgeting if the customer is enrolled with a supplier.
It is important that you fully understand what you are signing up for, check out your local utilities website before signing up for a budget plan or request to see a copy of the contract.
However, the easiest way to reduce your monthly utility bill would be to enroll with a Registered Energy Supplier to lower your energy rates, check out Realgy Energy Services rates for June 2012 and see how much you could be saving www.realgyenergyservices.com.
Most Utilities offer energy incentives and rebates to their customers for making efficient upgrades in their lives. This could mean purchasing new energy-efficient products, making energy-efficient home improvements, or even recycling old appliances, such as refrigerators, which could be costing you an extra $150 a year.
Some utilities, like ComEd in Illinois, offer refrigerator and freezer recycling to their residential customers. ComEd will give you $50 for each working unit, and the best part is that they will pick up for free.
Consumers Energy in Michigan offers a wide range of rebates and incentives to both Commercial and Residential customers. This includes rebates for the purchase for CFL or LED lights, water heaters and Energy Star appliances. Just be sure to fill out the correct rebate forms, which are all available on the Consumers Energy website.
The State of Indiana has even created a multi-utility energy efficiency initiative called Energizing Indiana. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, participating Indiana utilities and consumer organizations, have created Energizing Indiana to bring savings to Indiana residents. Some of the programs offered by Energizing Indiana include instant savings on CFL bulbs, free in-home energy audits and energy efficiency education.
Citizens Gas in Indiana offers rebates to existing customers for purchasing efficient natural gas furnaces, water heaters boilers and programmable thermostats. Citizens Gas is also offering rebates to customers who convert their old furnace or water heater to natural gas. For a natural gas water heater conversion they are offering $400. The rebate form is also available on their website.
Michigan Gas Utilities and SEMCO are among a handful of Utilities in Michigan that have partnered with the Michigan Public Service Commission to create Energy United. Energy United provides rebates and programs to help local residents reduce their energy use and achieve cost savings. Programs include Residential HVAC rebates, online home energy audits and low-income energy efficiency assistance, to name just a few.
These are just a few utilities and organizations that offer incentives and rebates for creating energy-efficient homes and businesses. Be sure to check your local utility website for more information on programs they may offer.
Learn more about Rebates and Incentives Programs