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Energy: Act Now to Avoid Paying Later

The rise of energy costs shouldn't be surprising to anyone. Corporate users along with utility providers may not be prepared to handle what telecom and the enterprise users went through with divestiture: Remember COG? (Centralized Ordering Group)

The rise of energy costs shouldn't be surprising to anyone. Corporate users along with utility providers may not be prepared to handle what telecom and the enterprise users went through with divestiture:

Remember COG? (Centralized Ordering Group)Alternative energy isn't just for consumers. As utility prices increase and users begin to adopt alternative means, I believe that customers are not fully prepared to work cooperatively. However, I must add, I do believe that the level of cooperation will vary from utility to utility since some will cooperate, especially if it means any avoidance of huge capital amounts in building or expanding power plants.

Virginia Tech is active in research in not just managing better power distribution methods, but also suggests that independent power distribution is a key component in our future. This means homes, businesses, places of worship, and buildings with sustainable roof space or property assets are candidates for cogeneration of power.

I've been working on our home energy project for some time and did interview last September with Al Staggers, PR executive for Allegheny Power, and everything he told me rang true. Maryland users of Allegheny services will receive two CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights) in the mail. On our bills will be an energy conservation surcharge of 96 cents per month for 12 months to cover the cost. This deal was worked out between the Maryland Public Service Commission and Allegheny Power. Most people don't even look at the details on their bills and I argued that many would think they are receiving a gift from Allegheny Power. I was dead wrong.

I did a followup with Allegheny Power customer service. I asked, "what would you say to a customer calling in stating that they wanted to know why they are being charged 96 cents for a surcharge on their bills?" The rep took a deep breath and explained to me the governor of Maryland wanted to cut statewide power consumption in his term by 15% and then gave me the details about the light bulbs. Maryland customers apparently hammered the customer service reps with complaints of "they did not ask for this." The rep also pointed out that when the mass mailing went out about the 15% rate increase, that they heard very little from customers. The rep went on to tell me that in a few more months the surcharges are being credited back to customers for the bulbs.

Looks like the new governor underestimated the will of people that live in a state with high cancer rates and growing environmental concerns. The local delegates even got in on the duck shoot, wanting to push a bill through to punish Allegheny Power. I can't help but hope in a few years maybe they'll come back and thank Allegheny Power.

Some would argue Allegheny Power exercised 'drastic measures' as certainly some would agree that they are necessary. Allegheny is transitioning customers from rate-capped plans to market-based generation rates. The company also told me that the call center staff is trained to work with interconnection of alternative energy, since there is no one person or specialized group that vendors can talk with. Why? Allegheny Power has 1.5 million customers and only 50 are engaged in net metering. Power or energy will become a significant line item in the budget that will no longer just get the glance over but will take some time to learn and manage.

Now, as important as it is to provide enough juice to your wares, the domestic US market is certainly going to dictate that you pay more for that power, especially at peak times. For those that seek to acquire, build and install their own alternative energy systems, be forewarned that while most PUC/PSC (Public Utility Commissions/Public Service Commissions) require that the utility provider allow the interconnection of your gear, note that the utility company still rules, and their rules are the ones you have to learn and apply.

Maybe utilities are not geared up for good reason, and don't mistake that I think they are the big bad utility company. People and enterprises are responsible for consumption, and energy has been long ignored, just like telephone services--taken for granted--and this will continue so long as customers can afford to pay the bill or until utility shortages disrupt business and jeopardize profit margins. (More on this later)

Maryland is predicting a power shortage (supply shortfall) by 2011/2012, which 'happens' to coincide with the timeframe that market based rates kick in. Until then, annual 15% rate increases go into effect. By 2013, Marylanders can expect to pay double for electricity over what they are paying today. When a utility sends you light bulbs in the mail, it isn't a gift but rather a revealing and rather loud message.