Tips Con Ed Customers Can Use for Switching Electricity and Natural Gas Suppliers

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If you live in New York and are a customer of Con Edison (Con Ed), the state’s largest public utility, electricity and natural gas are delivered to your home by Con Ed. You may even buy your electricity and natural gas from Con Ed. But you don’t have to. Con Ed’s service territory is deregulated, which means you’re allowed to shop around and buy your electricity and natural gas from among several competing energy companies, called Energy Service Companies, or ESCOs.

The idea behind deregulation is that competition from energy companies will drive down prices as the companies compete for your business. The good thing is that you don’t have to worry about your electricity and natural gas service. Con Ed will still deliver the energy to your home, regardless of which company you buy it from. Even better, shopping around for energy can save you money off monthly utility bills. Here are a few tips to help you choose the ESCO that’s right for you.

How to choose an ESCO

A Con Ed customer who is thinking of switching from Con Ed to an ESCO should contact the electricity and natural gas suppliers that offer service in the area, compare the offers and look into how companies handle things like customer service and bill payments. There’s more to an ESCO than just the price and things like bilingual support or a mobile app can increase your satisfaction.

When you contact the ESCO, ask about the different plans they offer, terms of the plan — including whether the plan has a fixed rate or variable rate and contains any minimum usage fees or early-termination fees — bill payment options, customer support options and any other options important to you.

Don’t forget: Con Ed will still be your energy delivery company

Remember, regardless of which electricity or natural gas supplier you choose to buy your energy from, Con Ed will continue to deliver electricity and natural gas to your home. Con Ed will still be responsible for responding to outages and emergencies and for providing service for wires, poles, transformers and gas lines.

Also, it’s important to note that regardless of who you buy your electricity or natural gas from, Con Ed will provide you with the same level of service as everyone else. In other words, Con Ed won’t punish you with bad service if you buy your energy from another company.

How to sign up with an ESCO

Once you’ve made your decision on which electricity or natural gas ESCO you want to switch to, the ESCO will ask for your Con Ed account number to obtain your electricity or natural gas usage information. Once you agree on a plan, you can enroll immediately (with most ESCOs).

When does new service with an ESCO begin?

For electricity suppliers, your new ESCO will begin selling you electricity on your next meter reading date, as long as you enroll in the new service at least 15 days prior to the date. If you enroll after that, you’ll have to wait for the next meter reading date to begin receiving electricity under your ESCO’s plan.

For natural gas suppliers, things are a little simpler. If you enroll by the 15th of any month, you’ll begin receiving gas under your ESCO’s plan by the first day of the following month.

How will I be billed if I switch to an ESCO?

If you switch to an electricity or natural gas ESCO, you may receive two bills — one from the ESCO for the amount of electricity or natural gas that you use and one from Con Ed for delivering the energy to your home — or you could receive one combined bill with two separate charges for supply, from the ESCO, and delivery, from Con Ed. Other billing options are possible. How your bill is delivered will be based on your ESCO and the arrangement it has with Con Ed.

If I switch from Con Ed to an ESCO, can I switch back to Con Ed?

Yes. However, you should consider the terms of your ESCO’s contract, including things such as early termination fees, before switching back. If you switch from a natural gas ESCO back to Con Ed, you must remain with Con Ed for one year before switching to another natural gas ESCO.

Sources

Con Edison, “PowerYourWay for Residential.”

Con Edison, “PowerYourWay Frequently Asked Questions.”

How to Read Your Spark Energy Residential Electric Bill in Texas (ERCOT)

Thursday January 5, 2012
Posted at 08:49

If you’re a residential Spark Energy customer in Texas, you’ll get a single bill for your electricity directly from us, Spark Energy.

But what do all those charges, fees and line items on your bill mean? It can seem complicated, but we’ve put together a list of terms and definitions below that should make reading and understanding your Spark Energy bill a little easier.

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  1. PUC License Number – Spark Energy’s license number issued by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas.
  2. Notification Area — Here’s where you’ll find important messages about your Spark Energy service, including changes in your plan and reminders that your contract is about to expire (when you have 60 days left) or that your contract has already expired.
  3. Billing Date — The date that we prepared the bill and sent it to you.
  4. Amount Due by 2:00 PM CST— This is the amount you owe for electric service for the current billing cycle plus any outstanding balance on your account.
  5. Due Date — The date the bill is due.
  6. Amount Due After Due Date — This is the amount you owe for electric service for the current billing cycle, plus a late payment penalty assessed in accordance with Public Utility Commission rules, if you fail to pay your bill by the due date.
  7. Balance Forward — The amount of your previous bill plus any outstanding balance on your account.
  8. Payment Received — The last payment amount made to your Spark Energy account, as of the date the current bill was created.
  9. Total Current Charges — The amount you owe for electric service for the current billing cycle.
  10. Account balance —The total amount due on your account, including the current charges and any previous unpaid balances that have carried over.
  11. ESIID — This is a number that identifies the location of your meter, similar to a street address, and will remain the same if your meter gets upgraded or replaced.
  12. SA or SAO — These letters, usually followed by a number, indicate whether you have a Spark Advantage or Spark Online Advantage residential electric plan. The number indicates the length of the plan contract in months. There may be other letter and number combinations in the future that identify other types of plans.
  13. Contract # — This is the number that we’ve assigned to your contract. If you have any questions about your contract, plan or bill, just have this number handy when you call and we’ll be able to quickly look up all your information.
  14. Invoice # — This number identifies each individual bill that we send to our customers. In case of billing questions, having this number handy will help us quickly find an answer.
  15. Meter — The serial number of the meter installed at your home is listed here. This number will change if your meter gets upgraded or replaced.
  16. Previous Reading — Like the mileage on your car’s odometer, this is the number of kilowatt hours recorded on your electric meter when it was read for your previous bill.
  17. Current Reading — This is the number of kilowatt-hours recorded on your electric meter when it was read for your current bill.
  18. Usage — The total number of kilowatt-hours used from your previous reading to your current reading. This amount of electricity is what you’re charged for on your current bill.
  19. Base Monthly Charge — The base charge that is made each billing cycle without regard to your demand or energy consumption. If you fail to use a certain amount of kilowatt-hours during a billing cycle for some plans, the monthly charge you’re assessed is listed here. If you’re not sure if this charge applies to you, check your contract or give us a call.
  20. Energy Charge — The amount you’re charged for the electricity you used during the current billing cycle, based on your plan.
  21. Advanced Metering Charge — A standard amount charged to all customers for the installation of digital “smart meters” within ERCOT. Smart meters help your utility communicate with the electric grid, pinpoint service outages without you having to call your utility, and can help you better understand how you use electricity in your home.
  22. Sales Tax — A charge by authorized taxing authorities such as the state, city or special purpose districts, sales tax is a tax that all consumers pay on goods and services in the state of Texas. This is no different than the tax you would pay if you bought a soda at a convenience store or a pair of shoes at the mall.
  23. Gross Receipts Tax Reimbursement — A fee assessed to recover the tax levied against retail electric suppliers operating in an incorporated city or town of more than 1,000 people.
  24. Public Utility Commission Assessment Tax — Known formally as the PUC Assessment, this is a fee assessed to recover the statutory fee for administering the Public Utility Regulatory Act.
  25. Total Charges — The total amount owed for the current billing cycle, including electricity use, fees, and taxes.
  26. The average price you paid for electric service this month — The amount you paid per kilowatt hour after adding in the Energy Charge, Advanced Metering Charge, Base Monthly Charge and Public Utility Commission Assessment Tax.
  27. Questions concerning your bill — The contact information for Spark Energy. Contact us for questions about your contract, plan, or billing.
  28. Local Distribution Company — The contact information for your TDU (transmission and distribution utility), or the local company that delivers the electricity to your home or business. Contact them for questions regarding your electric service and to report power outages or equipment that needs servicing or repair, such as poles, wires and transformers.
  29. Bill Payment Assistance Program — This program lets you donate money to help those who are less fortunate than you and who are having a hard time paying their electric bills. The amount you select to donate will be a one-time charge on your next bill only.

We hope this list has helped answer any questions you may have about how to read your Spark Energy bill. If you still have questions about what something on your bill means, please contact customer service toll-free at 888.772.7566.

The Facts About Smart Meter Safety

Monday December 12, 2011
Posted at 11:05

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Electric utilities around the country are upgrading their aging electric grids with technology that’s designed to make electric service more reliable and more affordable for customers in the utilities’ service territories. But while many have expressed concerns about the long-term effects of smart meters, there isn’t a lot of evidence to indicate they pose a health threat.

As part of the ongoing nationwide electric grid upgrades, many utilities are replacing old electric meters with smart meters. Advanced smart meters allow for the transmission of data to utilities, such as how much electricity is being consumed, and allow the utilities to transmit back to the meters. This gives utilities the ability to quickly and conveniently perform tasks like turning on the power after a customer moves in at a residence. Additionally, smart meters mean that utilities don’t have to pay for things like meter readers, a cost savings the utilities say they can pass on to customers.

Regardless of the purported benefits of smart meters, some are pushing back against the installation of the meters, citing the supposed health risks of radio frequency (RF) energy that is emitted by all electronic devices, including wireless devices like smart meters. Electric customers and advocacy groups opposed to smart meters have said that the devices are inherently dangerous to customers’ health. They cite supposed health risks associated with all RF-emitting devices, such as cancer, and describe symptoms that some customers have reportedly said resulted from installation of smart meters, such as headaches, heart palpitations and sleep disturbances.

However, utility officials, smart meter manufacturers and proponents of the technology point out that people are exposed daily to RF energy, including low levels of naturally-occurring RF energy produced by the earth and the human body, as well as RF energy from common man-made electronic devices like cell phones and microwave ovens. Smart meter supporters also claim that everyday electronic devices typically produce far higher levels of RF energy during longer periods of exposure than smart meters. In short, they say smart meters are safer than other electronic devices that most people use every day.

So which is it? Are smart meters dangerous or are they safe? While the real question may concern the safety of wireless electronic devices in general, here are several facts about smart meter safety.

Smart Meters Are Tightly Regulated by the Federal Government

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, evaluates the effects of RF emissions from electronic devices and regulates the amount of RF energy that electronic devices — including cell phones, microwaves and smart meters — are allowed to emit. Over the years, the FCC has taken recommendations from organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Management (NCRP) regarding human exposure to RF energy.

Like all other communication devices, smart meters, and the amount of RF energy they are allowed to emit, are tightly regulated by the FCC.

Smart Meters Produce Very Low Levels of RF Energy

The amount of RF energy emitted by an electronic device is defined by its power density, which is measured in watts per square meter (W/m²) over a certain distance. According to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, smart meters produce far lower levels of RF energy than many other common household electronic devices, like 16 times less RF energy than a baby monitor and over 4,300 times less than a typical cell phone:

DevicePower DensityTypical Exposure Duration

Bluetooth USB Dongle

0.042 W/m² at 4 inches

Less than 1 minute

Baby Monitor

0.029 W/m² at 3 feet

8 hours

Cordless Phone Base

0.052 W/m² at 3 feet

1–30 minutes

Microwave Oven

0.0043 W/m² at 3 feet

10–60 minutes

Smart Meter

0.0018 W/m² at 10 feet

1–2 seconds

Smart Meters Do Not Continuously Emit RF Energy

Smart meters do not continuously produce a wireless signal or emit RF energy. Instead, they relay information back to a utility once every 15 minutes throughout the day. The actual signal only takes from one to two seconds to send and, according to a study by the Electric Power Research Institute, generates less than 1 percent of the FCC’s daily safe RF energy exposure limit.

FCC: No Scientific Evidence Connects RF Energy With Illnesses

According to the FCC, “some health and safety interest groups have interpreted certain reports to suggest that wireless device use may be linked to cancer and other illnesses.” However, “currently no scientific evidence establishes a causal link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses.”

Sources

Smart Meter Opponents Look to Legislation and Regulation,” San Anselmo–Fairfax Patch, Nov. 1, 2011.

Study: Smart Meter Radio Frequency Emissions Low,” CNET, Feb. 22, 2011.

Federal Communications Commission, “Wireless Devices and Health Concerns.”

Federal Communications Commission, Office of Engineering and Technology, “Radio Frequency Safety.”

Federal Communications Commission, Office of Engineering and Technology, “FCC Policy on Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields.”

Public Utility Commission of Texas, “Smart Meter Safety.”