As those gloomy Starks are always warning in the “Game of Thrones” HBO series, winter is coming.
It’s time to think about energy savings and hoping that maybe this winter, if we use less electricity, the savings will truly be reflected in our bills.
That will only happen for SCE&G customers if the utility changes course and agrees to eliminate its “electricity weather normalization adjustment” program, as consumer advocates have urged.
South Carolina’s Public Service Commission obligingly approved the eWNA program in 2010, following a cold winter, after SCE&G assured regulators it would smooth out weather-related spikes in customers’ bills, and reduce billings by tens of millions of dollars.
The idea was, during unusually cold winters or hot summers, the adjustments would lower bills, but during mild weather eWNA would raise them.
The problem is, eWNA’s purpose is to smooth out SCE&G’s revenues — this is abundantly clear in the annual financial reports of parent company SCANA Corp. The eWNA allows them to essentially charge customers for the electricity that the utility thinks they should have used.
“Mild weather in the future could diminish the revenues and results of operations and harm the financial condition of the Company and Consolidated SCE&G if the eWNA is not extended on a permanent basis,” SCANA said in its 2012 annual report.
Let me take a shot at rephrasing that statement: “Mild weather in the future could lower SCE&G customers’ electric bills and improve their financial condition, unless eWNA is extended on a permanent basis.”
According to my calculations, my bills have been increased by a total of $155 during the past two years, thanks to eWNA.
And rather than smoothing out my bills, eWNA increased my six highest bills (the top 25 percent) during that period.
This is what “normalization” really means. My yearly cost for electricity stayed the same, because the utility tacked on eWNA charges, despite a 16 percent plunge in the amount of power I actually used,
If consumers want electric bills that don’t fluctuate they can simply sign up for budget billing, which averages the bills over 12 months. Raising or lowering bills based upon a secret formula is something entirely different.
I’ve written about this before, and my earlier column was cited in a report issued on Halloween by the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff, which non-bindingly called for the utility to cease the eWNA program by the end of this year.
The ORS, which is supposed to represent ratepayers in utility cases, also cited complaints about eWNA from advocates for the elderly, the poor, and the environment.
The utility claims that without the program, customer bills would have been nearly $38 million higher since mid-2010. Curiously, SCE&G refuses to say customers saved money.
I’m all for saving money and paying less for electricity, but I’m not for paying more for less electricity.
That extra $155 I paid during the past 24 months is more than my average monthly electric bill, so I basically paid SCE&G for an extra month of power that I didn’t use.
The ORS says the utility should end the eWNA adjustments after the December billing this year.
An SCE&G internal review of the program concluded no changes were reasonable or prudent.
What we have is SCE&G on the one hand saying their impossible-to-decipher formula for adjusting rates up and down has reduced consumers’ bills by tens of millions of dollars. And on the other hand they report that the company would suffer financially without the adjustment program.
“It is worrisome to both ORS and consumers that only SCE&G can generate and verify the calculation of the eWNA factor,” the ORS report said.
Now, I don’t regret making my home more energy efficient. And I urge other consumers to take simple, cost-effective steps like using a programmable thermostat, and insulating attic drop-downs, to reduce power consumption.
Now, if I could be charged only for the electricity I actually use, I’d be able to realize the full savings.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552