Friday, March 14, 2014

MLGW Explains High Utility Bills

From News Channel 3:

It’s power we have come to depend on. Many people can’t live without it, but now the price of that electricity is what some can’t live with.

“I am really struggling to pay this,” Lourica Neal said as she looks at her $351 MLGW Bill.

Neal has been living in a one-room apartment behind her grandmother’s home in South Memphis for a year. She can usually bank on her utility bill being around $180. Usually.

For the last two months, the bill has skyrocketed to almost $400.

“It’s not even a house, and I feel like they are charging me like it is a house,” said Neal. Complaints like this have been flooding WREG’s email and phone lines. People are now faced with bills that are hundreds of dollars above normal, and they’re demanding answers. We went to the man who can provide them – MLGW President Jerry Collins. He has heard the complaints and knows the frustrations, but says this winter has been like no other.

“January was the coldest January in 20 years. February was the second or third coldest in the last 20 years,” Collins said. The record temps have led to record bills for some people. Call it a trifecta:

Falling temperatures have people pushing up the thermostat, and for every degree you increase above 68 degrees, your bill goes up four percent. Then the cost of heating fuel is higher, and that’s passed on to you, the customer.

Plus one of the coldest winters on record, all add up to big dollars passed on to you. Collins says it’s not just Memphis. Other cities are seeing even higher utility bills this winter, so you might consider yourself lucky.

“I promise you the pain being felt for high bills is being felt much more acutely in the rest of the State of Tennessee more so than it is in Memphis,” Collins said.

Customers stuck with a payment they can’t afford can only think about their state of being and come up with their own conclusions. “It would show up in the meter and I don’t feel that they are actually reading the meter, they are estimating,” said Neal. Not so says Collins.

“Over the course of the year, 97 or 98 percent of meters are read every month.”

He says it’s only in extreme and rare circumstances that bills are estimated, but you can always ask to have your bill reviewed if you think it is wrong. If it’s a high water bill caused by a leak, you may be in luck – you can get that reduced one time by 30 percent. If it’s electricity and gas that’s pushing your payments to the limits, get ready to pay up.

“The meter readers make less than six errors per 10,000 meters read,” said Collins.

So what is a homeowner to do? MLGW says the best way to lower you bill is to make sure air ducts in your attic aren’t leaking. Proper insulation can mean money in your pocket. Install a programmable thermostat that keeps things cool when you are away, saving you dollars. They say the move to Smart Meters is already saving money for the 1,200 customers who had them installed three years ago.

“Those homes on average save about two percent on their utility bills. Those that sign up for time-of-use rate save five percent on their utility bills,” says Collins.

The Smart Meters let you see, in 15 minute increments, at what time of day and where in your home you are using the most utilities. They can also detect problems before you get billed from them, especially with things like water leaks.

It turns out water may have been behind Neal’s high bill, which she still thinks is not correct and is hoping to get lowered. MLGW says it is rare that they find a mistake on their billing, but you can still contact them if you don’t agree with the charges. Just call 544-MLGW.

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