Energy consultants sound off on high energy bill prices

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The recent spike in many residents electric bills has caused East Texans to voice their concerns through social media and even to their electricity providers, and many energy consultants say the high prices are coming from places you would least likely expect.

It's those so-called "hidden fees," such as TDU charges, which are service provider charges, that is fooling everyone, they say.

"There are two areas around East Texas—there is deregulated and regulated. The Co-op's are in regulated areas, in other words they have no choice. But in places where you do have a choice in an energy provider, be sure that your contract is up to date, that you're not on a variable plan," Lee Miller said.

In fact, a variable plan means that any service retailer can change your monthly rate at any time, and Lauren Little with TXU Energy says that's a way prices can go up.

"The risk is that while a customer might select a low variable rate, the retailer can change that rate at any time and as many times as it wants until the customer is billed. That means the rate can change even after the electricity has been used," Little said in a statement.

And that change is a big problem for consumers who are living on a fixed or budgeted income.

"Your TDU charge on your bill may be marked up beyond what the service provider is actually charging the retailer. You can look at that. Most of the service providers in this area and in our deregulated area is Oncor and a lot of times, you'll see that marked Oncor on the bill," Miller said.

Gary Adams, an energy consultant for Ambit Energy, says the problem with the concerns with high electric bills is because people aren't informed about what is going on.

"Some of it was that Oncor went up on their delivery charge—they went up a small amount but the PUC (Public Utilities Commission) allowed them to go up," Adams said.

However, he says Oncor isn't the bad guy and when an energy provider inflates companies like Oncor's delivery charge, they can do nothing but accept the inflation meaning rates for residents will go up.

But is that the only reason East Texans bills have skyrocketed this past billing period?

"The bottom line is we have had to run our heaters more than twice as much as we did last year, so bills could easily be more than two times what they were last year," said Patricia Hammond of Reliant Energy.

Hammond says electric heat uses up-to-three times as much energy as air conditioning and for every degree over 68; customers can expect a 3-5 percent increase in heating costs.

"We hear a fair number of customers say they didn't raise their thermostat settings and that they have only a small house or apartment," Little said. "It's important to remember that it takes more energy to get to and stay at a comfortable temperature inside when it is extremely hot or extremely cold outside. That means a customer used more energy even if he didn't raise the setting."

Hammond says opening the blinds on a sunny day lets the radiant heat from the sun heat up your home naturally and closing them at night helps to keep the warm in and the chill out.

Also, Miller says "by reducing your thermostat; making it a little cooler, putting on some more clothes," can help reduce those costs.

"Maybe look at getting wood burning fireplaces or a stove, also check your heating unit to be sure you are using it in the most effective way," Miller said.

Adams also says that space heaters can actually pull in more energy than with a central heating system. He says poor insulation can also be a problem, and cracks under windows or cracks under doors is where heat escapes. Miller adds that sealing those cracks with a plastic sheet can help.

Yet, despite these tips, there are still a lot of unanswered questions as to why our bills are so high and Miller says it's best to keep tabs on how much you are spending and really pay attention to those TDU charges.

"Take the amount of money that you are writing the check for at the end of the month and divide that by the number of kilowatts you use and come up with what you're really paying per kilowatt," Miller said.

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