Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel

Consumers' Corner

November/December 2012

In This Issue:


Help available for consumers facing a utility disconnection

Coneville-AEP-smokestacks

As temperatures drop, Ohioans are starting to crank up their furnaces. For many families, the onset of winter, and winter heating bills, can be worrisome.

The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) offers information about assistance programs available to help consumers stay connected to their utility services.

In September, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) issued a Winter Reconnect Order providing electric and natural gas utility customers the opportunity to avoid a disconnection or have their services restored by making a one-time payment of $175. Customers using the Winter Reconnect Order must then enter into a payment arrangement with their utility company for any remaining balances. The Order went into effect October 15th and extends until April 15th 2013.

Other things to know about the Winter Reconnect Order:

  • Ohioans with household incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level guidelines ($46,100 gross annual income for a household of four) may contact their local community action agency and use funds provided through the Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program (E-HEAP) in order to receive the $175.

  • An additional reconnection fee of up to $36 may be charged by the utility company if service has been disconnected. Some utilities charge reconnection fees of more than $36. In such cases, the balance may be billed to the customer the following month.

  • If a customer is in disconnect status for electric and natural gas service at the same time, the $175 payment may be divided between the utilities. The utilities may come to an agreement as to how the payment will be divided or a community action agency (if one is involved) may be able to help facilitate that arrangement.

  • The $175 can be used instead of a deposit to establish electric or natural gas service. If the deposit is more than $175, the remaining balance will be added to the next bill.

  • The Winter Reconnect Order also can be helpful for consumers wanting to remain on the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP Plus), Graduate PIPP or those wishing to re-enroll in those programs. However the Winter Reconnect Order is different for those customers than in years past. PIPP customers are still eligible to receive $175 under the E-HEAP program through their community action agency. But this year customers must pay the balance of any missed monthly PIPP payments by the due date of their next bill.

For more information about other utility assistance programs, please visit OCC's website: http://www.occ.ohio.gov/publications/factsheets-assistance.shtml.

By Marty Berkowitz


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Save money & stay safe while lighting your home at night

Daylight hours are shrinking and winter darkness is upon us again. Ohioans are spending more money to light the areas around their homes at night. Some consumers do so for aesthetics, while others use outside lighting for safety. Many consumers use outside lighting for both reasons.

There are several types of outdoor lighting. Understanding the differences can help you reduce the cost of lighting the outside area of your home at night. This article will show you how to calculate the cost and enjoy potential savings by changing the types of lighting used around your home.

Many consumers place lights around their doorways, on their porches, patios, walkways, driveways and other dark areas outside of their home. Light fixtures can be operated manually, have motion or infrared sensors, use solar cells or be timer-controlled.

Consumers can estimate the cost of lighting their home at night based on how long bulbs are lit, the amount of energy each bulb uses and the cost of electricity charged by their electric utility. For example, an American Electric Power (AEP) customer using four outdoor lights for 12 hours may pay around 44 cents each day ($14 monthly) as detailed in the accompanying chart:

Coneville-AEP-smokestacks(Click for larger view)

In order to calculate your home's night lighting costs, take these three easy steps:

  1. chart-2 Identify the wattage for eachbulb. Divide this number by 1000. This number represents the amount ofkilowatts each bulb uses.

  2. Determine the kilowatt hourcharge for your electric utility by referencing the chart to the right;

  3. Multiply the number of kilowatts each bulb uses by your utility's kilowatt hour charge by the number of hours the bulb is on. This figure will be the estimated cost of lighting your home each night. To estimate your monthly cost, multiply that number by how many days are in the month.

Night Lighting: Four Cost Saving Tips

OCC recommends several ways for consumers to save on the cost of lighting their homes at night, including:

  1. Shift to more energy efficient lighting
    Traditional incandescent lighting is inefficient – 90 percent of the energy used by an incandescent bulb produces heat, not light. Using more efficient types of lighting is a great way to cut back on your bills. When purchasing efficient lighting, pay attention to the watts (how much energy the bulb uses) and the lumens (how bright the bulb is). The typical incandescent light bulb has a short life span and uses more energy than newer and more efficient technology. Halogen lights, which are often used to light a specific area, are slightly more efficient and last a bit longer than incandescent bulbs. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) use much less energy than traditional bulbs and LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are even more energy efficient than CFLs. These bulbs each have a longer life-span and can save up to or above 75 percent of the energy used by incandescent bulbs.

    Note: Most CFLs used outdoors need to be in enclosed fixtures to protect them from the weather.

  2. Conserve energy through the use of motion sensors
    Motion sensors allow lights to remain off until they are activated by movement in an area. Adding a motion sensor to outdoor lights can save consumers money by eliminating the need to leave lights on throughout the night. Motion sensors can be added to many outdoor lighting installations. The cost of motion sensors varies and they can be purchased at many hardware stores or online.

  3. Use Dawn-to-Dusk Sensors
    Some Ohioans may prefer to have certain areas of their home lit whenever it is dark. But, forgetting to turn off your outdoor lighting during the day can add to your electric bills. To avoid the need to manually turn on and off your outdoor lighting, consider using a dawnto- dusk sensor on your lights. This sensor is designed to switch off the light in daylight. Many retail home improvement stores sell inexpensive sensors that can be added to your current light fixtures.

  4. Use solar lighting
    Light your walkway without adding to your utility bills with solar powered lighting. Easy to install solar lights convert sunlight into electricity. Typically these lights include a battery to store the electricity during the day and power the bulbs at night. Many retail stores sell a variety of solar lighting options.

For more information about saving energy and money, visit http://www.occ.ohio.gov/publications/energy_efficiency/Easy_Ways_to_Save.pdf. The cost of outdoor lighting is relatively inexpensive and could be well worth the safety benefits. We hope you will use these tips to save money on your energy bills.

By Marty Berkowitz

(1) Ohio Utility Rate Survey, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Staff Report, Oct. 15, 2012, http://www.puco.ohio.gov/emplibrary/files/util/UtilityRateSurvey/Oct12.pdf


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Important tips for energy choice shoppers

Mailings, door-to-door solicitors, phone calls and ads. Independent energy suppliers are out in force, looking to sign up new customers for their services.

In recent years, the way we purchase electricity and natural gas has changed. Not long ago, Ohioans did not have any choices regarding their utility services. Today, consumers have choices. We still have the option to purchase our electric and natural gas supply from the local utility, but we also have a number of retail energy suppliers from which to choose.

fact-sheetThe Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) offers fact sheets giving customers information about current retail offers and a chart to compare the price of these offers to what the utilities are charging. Each chart includes a list of offers from independent electric and natural gas suppliers as well as contact and contract information. Click on your local gas utility for more information about comparing your natural gas choices: Columbia Gas, Dominion East Ohio, Duke Energy, Vectren or download Comparing your electric choices from OCC's website.

OCC urges you to be informed not only about available offers but about the terms and conditions of any contract you may sign. Before agreeing to a contract with any supplier, make sure you have answers to the following questions:

  1. What is my current rate with my local utility?

  2. Is the energy offer higher or lower than my current rate? Is the offer a fixed or variable rate?

  3. How long will the contract last?

  4. Is there a fee to cancel my contract?

  5. Will the contract automatically renew at the end of the contract period? If yes, will it renew at the same rate?

If a salesperson comes to your home, ask to see a valid photo identification badge issued by the supplier. Solicitors must explain that they are not employees of the utility and clearly explain the details of any document they ask you to sign. Make sure you read everything in the fine print and ALWAYS keep a copy of your signed contract. Whether you are contacted by phone or in person, never release your billing or account information to a salesperson unless you have decided to enter into a contract.

Alternative energy suppliers offer choices to consumers regarding their electricity and natural gas services. But some choices, especially if not based on price comparisons, can be costly for consumers.

By Marty Berkowitz


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Save money and energy with utility-sponsored efficiency programs

Coneville-AEP-smokestacks

Saving money by being energy efficient is now easier than ever. More and more Ohioans are switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), adding insulation to walls and attics, and installing programmable thermostats.

Several new programs are available for consumers to become more energy efficient. Ohio's electric and natural gas utilities are offering rebates and other incentives to help you save money on your bills.

The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) encourages you to learn more about these money saving opportunities offered by your Ohio utilities:

chart-3(Click for larger view)

Programs may vary by utility. These are general descriptions of the energy saving opportunities listed in the chart:

Energy Audit:
Receive a comprehensive test of your home's efficiency with a complete energy audit. An energy auditor will determine if there are ways that you can save energy through various upgrades or home improvements. Many audits will include thermal camera and blowerdoor testing. These techniques show where outside air may be leaking into your home and where added sealing or insulation will help you become more efficient. At the completion of the audit, you will receive a detailed report with a list of recommendations to reduce your energy use and save money on your bills.

thermal-cameraEnergy Assessment: Receive a shorter, but less comprehensive version of the energy audit. Assessments typically include a thermal camera test and basic visual inspections for energy leaks. An energy auditor will provide you general recommendations; however an energy assessment will not be as in-depth as a full audit report.

Lighting Discounts: Purchase discounted compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or more efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to reduce your energy use. Many local retailers offer immediate discounts without needing additional paperwork.

Appliance Rebates/Recycling: Purchase new energy efficient appliances and remove those that are old and inefficient. Many utilities offer rebates on the purchase of new appliances such as clothes washers, dishwashers, refrigerators and freezers. In addition, several will pick up your old, working refrigerators and freezers and provide a monetary incentive.

Furnace/AC Tune-Ups: Receive a discount to have your furnace, air-conditioner or heat pump inspected to ensure it is in good working order. Tuning up cooling and heating systems will save you money on your utility bills and extend the life of your appliances. Most utilities provide a list of approved contractors in your area.

Energy Control: Allow your utility to occasionally control your energy usage on certain days. On the hottest days of the year, when the demand for electricity is at its peak, the availability of electricity may be strained. To reduce the need to build new power plants, you can give your utility more flexibility in managing its energy load. Your local utility will install a device that allows it to turn your air-conditioner on and off during these high-demand days. Some utilities offer immediate incentives for signing up for the program.

Other: Many utilities offer other energy savings opportunities. Some provide incentives to purchase programmable thermostats and high efficiency showerheads, and to have upgrades performed on your home and more. Contact your local natural gas and electric utilities to find out about other energy savings opportunities.

Links and Phone Numbers

American Electric Power
www.AEPOhio.com/Rebates
Recycling: 877-545-4112
Audit: 877-856-2454

Columbia Gas of Ohio
www.ColumbiaGasOhio.com/e-store
866-542-4767

Dayton Power & Light
www.dpandl.com/save
Recycling: 877-545-4112
Tune-up: 877-230-6937

Dominion East Ohio
www.deohpwes.com
877-287-3416

Duke Energy
www.duke-energy.com/ohio/savings.asp
Audit: 877-388-7676
Energy Control: 877-392-4848

FirstEnergy
www.energysaveohio-home.com
Recycling: 877-545-4112
Audit: 888-243-6808

Vectren Energy of Ohio
www.vectren.com
866-240-8476

Note: OCC suggests you contact your utility for specific details about available programs. Changes can occur without notice. Additional programs may be available.

By Erin Biehl


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FirstEnergy's renewable energy program "seriously flawed"

Questions have been raised about the amount of money FirstEnergy is charging its customers for renewable energy. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) ordered two independent audits to review FirstEnergy's renewable energy purchases.

houseOhio law requires electric utilities to purchase an increasing percentage of their energy from renewable sources each year through 2025. In 2011, the law required one percent of Ohio utilities' power to come from renewable energy. Utilities can either purchase renewable energy credits (also known as RECs) on the market or build their own renewable energy facilities. A REC is a certificate of proof that electricity was generated from a renewable energy source.

The independent audits found that FirstEnergy subsidiaries Ohio Edison, Toledo Edison and Cleveland Electric Illuminating charged their customers much more for renewable energy than any other Ohio utility.

According to the audit report from Exeter Associates, Inc.:

  • The FirstEnergy Ohio utilities paid "unreasonably high prices" for some of their renewable energy;

  • "The prices paid by the FirstEnergy Ohio utilities for these RECs were well above the prices customarily seen …"; and

  • "The FirstEnergy Ohio utilities had several alternatives available … none of which were considered or acted upon".

Additionally, FirstEnergy bought some of its renewable energy from its unregulated affiliate FirstEnergy Solutions. The audit report stated that "The FirstEnergy Ohio utilities should have been aware that the prices bid by FirstEnergy Solutions … were excessive by any reasonable measure."

The auditor also recommended that the PUCO consider "the disallowance of excessive costs" associated with purchasing renewable energy.

Electric utilities are allowed to charge their customers the reasonable costs of purchasing renewable energy. The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) and other parties are reviewing the two audit reports and will be making recommendations to the PUCO regarding the costs to customers.

"Ohio consumers should not have to pay for excessive costs associated with the purchase of renewable energy," said Ohio Consumers' Counsel Bruce J. Weston.

By Amy Kurt


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