Utility Fees

Natural Gas, Electricity, Water

The scope of this topic is to ensure you’re getting the best rate to reduce your utility fees. You may be able recover excess fees and earn rebates whether it is for a business or residence. Since much of the utility rates are regulated, along with the fees, the best option to reduce costs in utilities is to reduce consumption (i.e. don’t use as much). This can be done with stopping use, more efficient use, and reclamation/recycling. 

ESTIMATES

A utility bill may be based on an estimate rather than an actual reading which could be due to weather, pets, or obstructions. If you feel that your reading is unusually off (up or down becuase it will catch up to you eventually when an actual reading is done), contact the company to work out a way to get an actual reading. If there’s a disputed amount filed with the utility you may not be entitled to the disputed amount and that can be difficult to quantify exactly. It’s also possible that the meter itself has gone awry and you could request an accuracy test. based on an estimate rather than an actual reading which could be due to weather, pets, or obstructions. If you feel that your reading is unusually off (up or down becuase it will

CREDIT CARD PAYMENTS

Many utilites providers accept payments from credit cards. If this is the case AND there isn’t a fee, you may be able to get reward points (such as 1% back) through your bank/credit card to offset some of the fees.

COMPLAINTS

You can file a complaint against a utility company through your state Public Service Commission. Search the web by entering “your state” and “Public Service Commission” and you should quickly find a starting point. Another option is with a customer support association called the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA) which has advocates representing 43 states and the District of Columbia, Barbados, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica. The NASUCA strives to ensure consumers get safe, reliable, and reasonably priced utilities. 

Natural Gas

Residences usually have one rate that is applicable for regulated markets. Heating a home or business thorugh a central heating system or air-make up is usually the primary source of usage. Here are some ideas to reduce your home natural gas costs

Insulate the hot water pipes to prevent the hot water heater from working as much. This could be a gas or electrical savings. 

Programmable thermostat or SMART thermostat – but remember to shut off or manually turn down the heat if leaving for an extended period of time

 

Electricity

Electricity is regulated is some areas which restricts free market choices and in others it is deregulated. 

Power Factor 

For some businesses the invoice will have a Power Factor (PF) fees that essentially charges for the loss between the apparent power that is delived to your business vs the actual power generated. These fees are usually based on a percentage of use of the apparent power and the lower the percent the higher the fee. The PF can be increased with the installation of capacitor banks.

The goal is to at least get the PF above the % threshold to avoid monthly penalties. However, these thresholds tend to increase over time. This means it may be ideal to exceed the threshold by a few percent to give some insurance for increase by the utility provider. Of course, the higher the PF, the more sophisticated the capacitor bank and higher costs. 

Peak vs. Non-Peak

Most providers offer lower rates during times of the day when there is lower demand on the grid. This usually represents late evening and early morning hours. A business may consider the options to run the high use electrical equipment in off-peak hours to reduce costs such as air compressors, dryers, and equipment.  

Water

Water bills usually consist of two components: A rate for:

  1. USAGE (how much water was metered in)
  2. SEWER (water expected put down the sewer)

There is not much you can do to dispute the fees unless you suspect erroneous value on the usage and sewer volumes. In some cases, deeper investigations and studies have found excess charges tacked on to water bills and class action lawuits have resulted. 

USAGE

To reduce the “usage” cost, you’ll need to find ways to reduce consumption. Some are obvious but some are being innovated every day. The obvious are fixing dripping faucets, installing flow restrictors, shorter showers, better utilization of dishwasher and washer space (obviously overloading can create a new set of problems). 

Sprinkler systems can be major consumers of water. First all make sure the spray heads are working and unblocked and adjusted to maximize flow of water to the right spots. Adjusting the sprinkler system to run when the sun is down and evaporation is minimal. Adjust the amount of time certain zones need to run. Add a rain sensor to ensure the system stays off when raining. 

The best option is to find appliances or fixtures that use less water. Toilets have innovated to reduce the amount of water per flush from 1.6 gallons to 1.o gallons in many cases. Some have both options. Showerheads, faucets, spigots are available with flow restrictors to reduce water consumption. Washing machines come in various efficiencies much like natural gas furnaces. 

Business may use cooling systems that use a mixture of water, treatment chemicals and possibly an anti-freeze. These are largely closed loop systems. This means the cooling water (or mixture) is recirculated through a closed loop of pipes to avoid constant use of fresh water. Many cooling systems eventually need some new water to replenish and that where the differences lie. Not all are created equal meaning that some use less water than others to do their job.

SEWER

For the “sewer” component, residences with sprinkler systems may have the option to add a separate meter that measures the amount of water used for the sprinkler system and deducts that from the total sewer amount. Logically, that water is not going to the sewer so why should there be a charge for it. Not all municpalities offer this option and if so it usually costs a few hundred dollars so the payback is normally a few years.  

man, working, construction

Green Incentives

Besides getting the best rates and recovering fees, if residents or business make a improvement that saves utilities there is probably a rebate or incentive option that could earn money back. In addition to the new efficiency savings you will get by reducing the consumption of gas, electricity, and/or water, the project may qualify for a rebate. It’s usually mandatory to fill out the paperwork BEFORE the project is done. Click below to learn more.

Energy Management for Business

There are businesses that specialize in managing utility negotiations and contracts for businesses. The arena of energy management is a language of its own. There are countless details to be aware of to get the most efficient use of energy, best rates, lowest risks, and check for billing errors. These companies can handle some of the tasks or all of them and most of them support international locations.

Tax Exemptions

Tax Benefits

For those that made energy efficient home improvements there may be another perk for you. The IRS currently offers a Residential Energy Credit for qualifying types of improvements. A home can pertain to a house, houseboat, mobile home, cooperative apartment, condominium, and a manufactured home However, you must reduce the basis of your home by the amount of any credit allowed. The link below explains the program and qualifiers. 

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