Behind the Headlines & Electric Utility Fees

It is always good to look beyond the headlines, they don't always tell the whole story. This Wall Street Journal story about electric utility fees is one example.

The Headlines Read:

A Wall Street Journal article from October 20, 2015 suggests that utilities are seeking to punish customers because of their efforts to conserve electricity. The article, well the research used to justify the article, is based mostly on a report published by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (in Chicago).

The Research Says:

The headline and report from the Chicago group are very misleading. Yes, 22 utilities have asked for higher fees. Yes, other utilities have suggested they may ask for increases. These fees though are not a result of consumers’ conservation efforts-they are fees associated with developing a smarter grid, infrastructure upkeep and associated costs.

From WSJ.com

What the article does point out and should be of concern, flat rate ‘fees’ that every consumer pays the same amount for disproportionately impact those who use less power. While most of our electric bill can be attributed to the amount of power we use (we pay a rate per kilowatt for supply and a separate rate per kilowatt for delivery), fees are fixed and not tied to usage

Bradley Klein, a lawyer for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, is quoted this way,

The result {of higher fixed fees} is that low-use customers pay more than in the past, and high-use customers pay less.

William Dornbos from the Maine-based Acadia Center (they promote clean energy) says high monthly fees reduce the portion of the bill that a customer has the ability to lower.

Fixed fees are unpopular because they disempower the customers and discourage investments in rooftop solar and energy efficiency.

To bring this full circle, the reality is:

• In both regulated and de-regulated states, utilities have fixed rate fees. Fess are usually related to costs associated with infrastructure and technology updates.
• Utility fees are the one part of your electric bill not tied to kilowatt usage.
• Fees are approved by regulators, consumers do have an opportunity to speak up and oppose (or support them) before enacted.
• Deregulated states, where consumers select their supply company, are not immune to these utility fees.
• Conservation efforts don’t cause these fees to increase; this is especially true in states with energy choice

A copy of the author's Central Maine Power bill showing "Fixed Delivery Fee"
A copy of the author’s Central Maine Power bill showing “Fixed Delivery Fee”

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Go Green With These Green Grilling Tips.

Is grilling good or bad for the environment or is it at least better than cooking in the kitchen? It depends on how you cook, what you cook & the clean-up. Check out these green grilling tips.

Even with July 4th in the rear-view mirror we have several weeks of good grilling weather ahead of us.  For those who like to tailgate and aren’t afraid of snow, grilling holds year-round appeal.

Is grilling good or bad for the environment?  Is it at least better than cooking in the kitchen?

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You have four basic grill options: gas grills (natural gas or propane), electric grills, charcoal grills (using briquettes or “lump charcoal”), or grilling on a wood fire.

Cooking indoors or out, natural gas is a clean and efficient way to cook and more environmentally friendly than using electricity. Grilling with gas is also more energy-efficient than an indoor oven, since ovens take time to preheat.

In most cases, both charcoal and wood are less eco-friendly than your indoor gas or electric range.

When we grill or look to eat outside, we often include paper napkins, paper/plastic plates and perhaps the good ‘ole Red Solo Cup.

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For those looking to stay green, forget the red (Solo or any other disposable cup) and consider the same plates, cups you use for inside cooking.  Yes, it may feel less like a picnic-but the chemicals and by products used to produce paper and plastic cups are in no way more environmentally friendly then doing dishes.

What to eat?

If you insist on being a carnivore consider chicken.  It takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce four half-pound hamburgers. So opt for chicken over beef, and vegetables over chicken.  (By and large we agree…what good is a BBQ without some red meat?  For today though we’re talking about the environment, not the best cut of meat.)

If you have the grill fired up anyway, cook enough for multiple meals.  Cook up extra veggies or meat to ad to salads for another day.

The Clean up:

Lets see.  You already decided against disposable plastic spoons and forks.  We used lean cuts of meat, prepared lots of left overs and used environmentally friendly cooking fuel.  Time to clean the grill.

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Simple!  Make a paste using baking soda and water.  Attack the grill grates while they are still warm and clean up will be a snap.

Now it is time for a nap!

For help in putting this piece together we looked to:

Huffington Post

Grist.org

 

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How the Federal Government Supports Energy Efficiency at Home

While federal programs certainly have their detractors, energy efficiency programs initiated by the Federal Government have been largely successful.

State or local governments have traditionally taken the lead when it comes to implementing energy efficiency programs for homeowners. Building codes, new construction incentives, home energy ratings, land use ordinances and energy efficient mortgages are decided upon and implemented by state and local governments to help curb the collective energy use of its residents.

Even in Maine where the Efficiency Maine program has been the subject of much controversy, programs administered by quasi-governmental agencies are very popular.

Meanwhile, the conversation in Washington, DC has largely leaned towards topics such as the Keystone XL Pipeline and high-level goals regulating efficiency in industry. While not unheard of, Congress has rarely had the opportunity to narrow the focus to the specific needs of homeowners and landlords in the debate.

While the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) reports that residential and commercial (excluding agricultural and industrial) greenhouse gas emissions only make up 12% of the total U.S. greenhouse gas output pie, that’s still 817 million metric tons of CO2. To put that into perspective, 1 million metric tons is roughly equivalent to the same physical mass as one million small cars. So, that’s the mass of 817 million Toyota Corollas worth of greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere every year by houses, apartment buildings, stores and restaurants.

A Bill in the Right Direction

Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, have been working for years on bipartisan energy efficiency legislation. This April, they celebrated a significant victory with the passing of a bill that would create a voluntary program for landlords and tenants to improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings, mandate that large electric water heaters be run in a highly energy-efficient manner and require federal agencies to perform energy-use assessments on commercial buildings that they lease.


United States Environmental Protection Agency sign on the Clinton building
United States Environmental Protection Agency sign on the Clinton building

The Department of Energy’s National Appliance Energy Conservation Act is a small slice of the broader energy efficiency measures that the senators have been hammering at since 2011, but both Senators Shaheen and Portman are pleased with the recent victory and see it as a large step in the right direction.

“On the bill’s merits — creating jobs, saving consumers money and reducing pollution — it was never a hard sell,” Ms. Shaheen said. “The tough part was convincing Washington to not play politics with a good idea.”

Mr. Portman said, “Our targeted energy efficiency bill has garnered widespread support because of a simple fact: It is good for the economy and good for the environment.”

From recent coverage in the New York Times

Partisan gridlock will surely continue to play a role in the debate over Senators Portman and Shaheen’s broader goals, but for the time being this move is being celebrated by both parties.

What Does This Mean for Homeowners?

Starting in April, all newly manufactured water heaters have to be more efficient. Homeowners will see higher energy ratings on all residential gas, electric and tankless water heaters. The goal is to cut down on emissions and save billions of dollars in energy costs.

A residential water heater is the second largest consumer of energy in the home, right behind your heating and cooling system. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, heating water accounts for about 18 percent of energy consumption in households. Any improvement to a water heater’s efficiency is going to pay dividends in monthly utility bills, but the upfront cost will be up to 35% more expensive. Also, plan for a slightly larger tank in your basement, as the new and more efficient models are larger.

Tankless or even solar water heaters are also an option for those who don’t want to make room for the bulkier new appliances. Tankless heaters don’t have water storage containers, but instead heat water on demand, so hot water never runs out. Because they are already more efficient than heaters that use tanks, the new standards do not apply but they cost about three times more than regular heaters. Along with the monthly savings on your bill, tankless heaters last about three times longer than the average 8 to 10 year lifetime of heaters that use tanks.

The U.S. EPA’s ENERGY STAR Program is a great resource for homeowners to better understand where to find building and lifestyle inefficiencies and the products and incentives available to increase the efficiency of their home. ENERGY STAR was established by the EPA in 1992, and consumers can find a multitude of resources on the program’s website to help them navigate product choices and practices to help make their home or business more efficient. It also provides information about state and federal incentives to help push us all to more energy efficient choices.

As Senators Shaheen and Portman work to hammer home more federal legislation to increase energy efficiency both on an industrial level and at home, tools are available to make smarter and more efficient decisions for our homes and businesses. It’s better for the wallet and the environment.

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Green Living Energy Savings

Keep cool with these 10 AC-free hacks

Does the idea of relying on an air-conditioner to keep cool get you hot? Here are some tips to keep cool, save a buck and keep the old air conditioner in storage.

According to Google, it’s going to cost you $300 over the course of the summer to run one air conditioning window unit. So which room do you choose? The bedroom? Your home office? The living room? Does your entire family huddle around this loud, dripping machine when summer is at its peak? Is there always someone in the house complaining it’s too cold?

The reluctant truth is, our grandparents survived without air conditioning, especially in New England. With a few common sense actions and a teeny bit of willingness to forgo optimum personal temperature at all times, you too can save some money and do a little bit more for the environment.

So what is your survival plan?

  1. Go CFL or LED. If you needed (another) reason, here it is. Incandescent bulbs waste about 90% of their energy in emitted heat. While CFLs and LEDs might only make a small difference in the temperature of your home, you’re also saving (more) electricity.
  2. Let the air in. Open up those windows at night. If you live in a noisy area, use a fan for white noise — it’s still more efficient than that AC unit. And if you live in the country, bask in the primal sounds of sleeping with the crickets and peepers. They will sing you sleep.
  3. Close the blinds. The early morning air is some of the coolest you will feel all day, but once that sun has broken the horizon and temperatures begin to climb, shut it down. Your home has captured what it can for cool air, so now trap it inside by closing windows and pulling blinds. It may seem counterintuitive, but your late morning/afternoon self will thank you.
  4. Grill, baby, grill. Stay away from the stove and get fireside. Cranking up a giant appliance to 350 inside the house is no way to end the day.
  5. Feel the freezer burn. Go ahead and stick those fresh cotton sheets in the freezer for a few minutes before turning in. Then enjoy a freshly made, pleasantly chilled bed.
  6. Get creative with air flow. If you thought fans were just for blowing in, think again. Turn your window box fan around and suck all of that hot air out. If you choose juxtaposing windows, the hot air will be sucked out and cooler air pulled in. Try different arrangements to figure out what works best in your home. If you’re lucky, you may even achieve the gold standard — a cross breeze.
  7. Go old-school. Place a large bowl or roasting pan of ice in front of the fan. The breeze will pick up the cool air and send it your way. Yes, people used to do this pre-AC and yes, it works!
  8. Down a quart? Fill ‘er up. Drinking water throughout the day gives your body the tools it needs to stay cooler through perspiration. Yes, your body is designed to sweat a little.
  9. Take a cold shower. It’s refreshing, saves energy, and studies show it can even make you an all around more productive person.
  10. Unplug. Disconnecting (not just turning off) electronics at night will bring the core temperature of your house down and save electricity.

BONUS:

While eating ice cream may seem like a natural plan for a hot day, counterintuitively, drinking a hot cup of tea can actually help to lower your body temperature and trigger your sweat glands.

These quick tips are effective ways to keep your cool when temperatures soar up over 80, but it’s also helpful to keep the long-view in mind. Consider investing the money you will save to plant trees and vines around your home, or installing awnings over windows. While $300 may seem worth it in the hottest months, remember that collectively we can make a big dent in excessive energy use.

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Green Living Energy Savings

5 Steps to Making Your Historic Home More Energy Efficient

We New Englanders love our squeaky old farm houses, Capes and captain’s houses. Making them energy efficient and reducing energy costs will make them all the more enjoyable.
Originally built in 1880's this home has undergone a number of renovations. Many windows still need replacing as well as upgrading the insulation.

We New Englanders love our squeaky old farm houses, Capes and captain’s houses, and taking care of our historic homes is nothing short of a labor of love. But it’s not just about the hard work. While the carbon footprint of maintaining and inhabiting an old home is less than building a new one, the expense of heating, cooling and lighting these beloved structures can be nothing short of menacing.

There is also our own, personal energy use to consider. All residential buildings in the US use more energy than all commercial buildings combined. While we love our drafty fireplaces and single pane windows, none of us are looking to guzzle up the resources often required to make a New England winter manageable. That said, building a new and tightly sealed home can emit up to ten times more C02e (carbon dioxide equivalent) during construction than rehabbing an old one. So, while cutting household emissions can clearly make an impact, if your goal is to be the best global citizen you can be, older is better.

Enter home performance. An energy efficient home isn’t just for new construction. There are many ways to keep the charm and originality of your historic home while also saving a little fuel, a little electricity and potentially a lot of money.

Historic Homes are Different

There are considerations to make before moving forward with creating new efficiencies in your old house. It is important to remember that your 1800s home was constructed using different techniques than what contractors practice today. For example, if your home is a pre-1850s structure, its bones are likely post and beam instead of the more modern balloon framing. This will be important to consider when updating your insulation.

Another major consideration is temperature regulation and moisture levels. Historic homes were not built with the same static, comfortable temperature expectation as today. If you were cold, you put on a sweater. If you were hot, you opened a window. Thicker walls provided some insulation, keeping the home warmer at night and cooler during the day, but in general, air was allowed to move more freely throughout the structure. Adding insulation to your old home without considering the house as a system can cause moisture to accumulate and mold and rot to form.

Thanks to south-west facing windows-the sun provides some warmth and added natural light.
Thanks to south-west facing windows-the sun provides some warmth and added natural light.

The best thing to understand about owning an old home is that you live in a structure that has served well for 100, 150 or even 200 years. The charm of your home is not only an aesthetic consideration, but also an environmental one.

Now, to improve your historic home’s energy efficiency

It is important to be considerate of your surroundings as you move towards retrofitting your home. Old homes were designed to utilize their natural surroundings for temperature control. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this project. Here are some first steps to having an energy efficient historic home:

  1. Get an energy audit. This is the first step to identifying leaks in your home. While many states offer free energy audits, it may be worth the expense of going to a professional when dealing with a 100 to 200 year old home. They will go beyond some of the more obvious energy upgrades and provide a complete roadmap for moving forward.
  2. Air seal. But not too tight! This is a one-step to significantly improving your home’s energy efficiency. Identifying and sealing the holes and cracks in your home’s exterior, doors, windows and even attic floor will make a huge difference. Sealing up these cracks can often be a DIY project. Energy Star offers a comprehensive DIY guide to get you through. During this project, keep the house-as-a-system approach in mind and work to strike a balance. The house still has to breath to avoid mold and rot.
  3. Keep it simple. Cut down on drafts by closing curtains, plasticing your windows in the winter, closing your fireplace damper and using door snakes. These methods may be simple, but they are cheap and surprisingly effective.
  4. Establish climate zones. Old homes are often comprised of many rooms. As winter approaches, identify which rooms you aren’t using regularly and consider shutting them down for the season. If you have an air-conditioned home, consider the same in the summer. Placing these rooms on separate thermostats will allow you to further control the climate.
  5. Consider a programmable thermostat. There are many options of varying cost out there, but the overall goal here is to decide what temperature your house should be at certain times during the day, and stick with it. The Nest thermostat seems to be getting the best reviews lately, but there are several options.

These are some basic, first steps you can take towards improving your historic home’s energy efficiency. Should you choose to get a professional energy audit, they will go deeper into your house’s needs and its possibilities, addressing big-ticket items like your furnace, windows, basement and attic, and even the possibility of purchasing renewable energy to power your home. There are a multitude of resources out there for homeowners with regard to sourcing contractors, DIY projects and even tax credits.

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Just Another Reason to BBQ

No matter how old, your home appliances use a great deal of electricity. While they are more energy efficient than even 5 or 10 years ago. Even the most energy efficient appliances and electronics account for 20% of the average household energy bill. So, stop using them and fire up the grill.

We have finally shoveled our lawns, many are breaking out the BBQ.     If you haven’t…what are you waiting for? Baseball  and softball season is underway.  The days are  longer.  Do we really need another reason to BBQ?  How about saving money?

For every hour you use your oven  (at 350 degrees) it costs about  .20 cents.    Microwaving those steamed veggies for 2 minutes will add .07 cents to your power bill.     Boiling water on your electric stove top will set you back  .11 cents. By using the convection oven for 30 minutes will add a whopping .10 cents to your power bill.

No matter how old, your home appliances use a great deal of electricity. While they are more energy efficient than even 5 or 10 years ago.  Even the most energy efficient appliances and electronics account for 20% of the average household energy bill.

Get out of the kitchen and instead use the grill.     Unless you are a gourmet,  everything tastes better on the grill.  In addition even grilling is getting greener.

There has been considerable debate about which is “greener” charcoal or propane for grilling.      Energy efficient grills are all the rage.  Which ever your preference (charcoal or propane),  using  grills that retain the most heat will reduce how much fuel you have to use.    Consider  a ceramic grill-check out the Grilldome!

There are even a host of environmentally friendly  BBQ briquettes available.     Try coconut briquettes or natural wood briquettes.

What ever your  choice of fuel for grilling, after this long, cold winter, we deserve a good BBQ.  Our spring and summer is too short to not take advantage of  all the outside family time we can get.  So enjoy.

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We Agree. Read the Fine Print

Legislative efforts in New Hampshire to make electricity buying for consumers should be embraced.

The following appeared in the New Hampshire Union Leader-March 19, 2015

Dave Solomon’s Power Plays: When it comes to utility mailings, read the fine print
DAVE SOLOMON

Competition in the sale of electricity has been a fact of life for New Hampshire’s residential consumers for the past three years, yet confusion persists in the market.

Many customers are still getting stuck with high-priced variable rates after their fixed-rate contacts expire.
Complaints to the Public Utilities Commission and to state lawmakers prompted two bills in the state Legislature this year designed to enhance consumer protections and rein in questionable marketing practices by some competitive electricity suppliers.

The House bill, HB 345, would have created a consumer bill of rights, eliminating the ability of a utility to cut-off service for non-payment of an energy supply charge. That bill failed on a voice vote in the House on March 4.

A bill in the Senate, SB 170, would require the Public Utilities Commission to redesign the billing format for residential electric bills and the PUC website so that key information for consumers will jump out and hit them on the head. It’s called “conspicuous notification.”

That bill is still alive, and is likely to pass after getting an “ought to pass” recommendation on March 12 by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It has bipartisan support with 12 senators signed on as cosponsors, and is scheduled for a floor vote today, March 19.

In addition to mandating changes to the billing format for electricity customers and improvements to the PUC website, it puts some teeth into PUC enforcement of the competitive electricity market, authorizing regulators to assess fines, rescind contracts, order restitution and revoke the registration of any competitive electricity supplier “found to have engaged in any unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the marketing, sale or solicitation of electricity supply or related services.”

Defining unfair or deceptive practices is not going to be easy, because some competitive suppliers know how to exploit the confusion in the market with promotional materials that walk a fine line between deceptive and unclear.

While testifying in support of SB 170 back in January, the attorney who represents consumers before the PUC, Susan Chamberlin, pointed out just how confusing it can be.

“I’ve seen disclosures provided by at least one competitive supplier that say, ’OK after your fixed rate expires, this will go to the rate determined by the ISO-New England,’ ” she said. “That’s not completely inaccurate, but it’s not completely accurate either. ISO doesn’t regulate the rate, they simply monitor the market, and the market can have a variable rate that goes up to 100 percent more than what you are paying.”

A mailed solicitation from North American Power that went out last month triggered some confusion. Here’s how Rosemary Marshall of Hollis described the North American mailing.

“I received information from PSNH reflecting North American Power as the option for a change to our energy supplier. Have there been any complaints regarding their fixed rate?”

That mailing did not come from PSNH. I got the same mailing. It’s easy to see why someone would think it comes from PSNH. It says “Attention PSNH customers, First Notice,” and has PSNH all over it, but it was from North American, whose logo is inconspicuously placed in the lower right hand corner of the page. The key details of the offer are in microscopic print at the bottom of the back page.

North American has actually been one of the more stable companies in competitive supply. One company, Glacial Energy, had people going door to door representing themselves as PSNH employees.

A new entrant into the market, Ambit Energy, uses an Amway-style network marketing system that will soon have your friends and neighbors telling you what a great deal they can get you on your PSNH bill, which may be technically true, but not entirely accurate.

Regarding Rosemary’s question about complaints, I checked with Amanda Noonan, director of consumer affairs at the PUC, who provided complaint data from June 1 of last year to Feb. 20, regarding the two major competitive suppliers in the state — ENH Power with more than 40,000 customers, and North American, with about 35,000.

The PUC got 21 complaints about ENH, and 101 about North American. What accounts for the difference? Here’s what Noonan had to say:

“ENH Power offers only fixed price energy products to its customers. A few weeks before the end date of the contract, ENH communicates to its customers that the contract will be ending and offers a new fixed price, fixed term contract. The communication tells the customer what the price is and what to do if they want or don’t want to continue with ENH”

“North American Power offers fixed priced energy products to its customers as well. It also communicates to its customers a few weeks before the end date of the contract, notifying customers that the contract will be ending. The communication tells the customer what to do if they want or don’t want to continue with North American.”

“It also notifies the customers that if they do nothing, they will be placed on North American Power’s variable price service. The notice does not tell the customer what that service will be priced at, most likely because the price is not yet known. For those customers that do nothing, the variable price service can be considerably higher in the winter months than the fixed-price service.”

Bottom line: Read the fine print.

– See more at: http://www.unionleader.com/article/20150319/NEWS02/150318919/0/SEARCH#sthash.PyFfl8kh.dpuf

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Clarity & Transparency On Your Electric Bill

ENH Power built its customer base of nearly 47,000 customers by exceeding industry norms and expectations. We encourage any review of legislation that makes it clear what is expected of suppl

New Hampshire lawmakers are undertaking an effort to make electric bills easier to understand and bring increased clarity and transparency.  SB 170 would require the PUC to redesign the billing format for residential electric bills and the PUC website.   As outlined in a recent article in the New Hampshire Union Leader, proposed changes include but are not limited to:

*Include the term and expiration date of the rate

*include the term and expiration date of the rate

*the cancellation fee, if one applies

*People buying a variable rate from a competitive supplier would have to be notified on their bill of the fact that they purchased a variable rate

*The same bill would have to inform the consumer of the default service rate offered by the regulated utility

At ENH Powwer we are still reviewing some of the specifics of the proposed legislation, including long term impact especially in the areas of technology.

As far as rate transparency and educating about energy choice, ENH Power built its customer base of nearly 47,000 customers by exceeding industry norms and expectations. We encourage any review of legislation that makes it clear what is expected of supply companies, utilities and consumers.

In other states in which we do business, including Maine as Electricity Maine and Massachusetts as Provider Power Mass, where we have a combined 150,000 additional customers, we have been vocal about our support for rule changes that balances the rights of consumers with the ability of reputable electricity supply companies to be competitive.

To learn more about the Provider Power family of companies and our company history and commitment to New England, please visit www.providerpower.com

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