Utilities "Gotcha"

No matter how much I curb my usage, why am I not able to reduce my energy bill? We’ve all tried the different suggestions that come from our local O&R utility: turn down your thermostats, better insulate your homes, fix drafty doors and windows, choose an energy supplier that offers competitive rates. The list is endless and while helpful there is one thing you are not being told and there seems to be nothing you can do about it.

If you thoroughly examine the itemizations on your utility bill, you will find a maze of complicated calculations, fees, charges, surcharges and taxes. Many of them you can calculate and control by limiting your CCF & KWH usage and/or choosing outside suppliers who offer competitive rates. However, there is one “GOTCHA” over which you have no control – the all elusive and unexplained “MONThLY ADJUSTMENT CHARGE”. It rears its head and bites when you least expect it and because it’s tucked away in all those itemized lines, you don’t even know you’ve been bitten.

It’s defined as a charge that “recovers costs of a number of items related to delivering” your energy. And what exactly does that mean? When I called O&R for an explanation, their best answer was “read the back of your bill.” “But that doesn’t explain how the charge is calculated,” I responded. “Well, it’s all regulated by the energy commission” was the final explanation.

Upon further research, I discovered that providing energy is dependent on supply and demand. Your supplier will set prices by speculating, (hedging their best guess) on what future supply and demand will be. Regardless of how well they guess, you the customer will make up the difference on their “handi-cap” error.

How much might that be? In fifteen years, I can only count half a dozen times where the difference result- ed in a negative amount, (the largest refund being $15.00 February 2015). All the other times it’s been an additional charge on usage, ranging from 0.25% - 46.00% with an average around 7.00% - 8.00 %. That means an additional $10.00 - $60.00 slapped onto the bill. And the highest adjustment charges, though unpredictable, seem to always occur in the hottest summer months and coldest winter months when the most energy is being consumed.

Like most people, I don’t mind a charge if I’m told how to predict and calculate the amount. But the elusive MONTHLY ADJUSTMENT CHARGE is a “gotcha” until someone forces O&R to provide better transparency.