Yes, you can save on electricity

Remember the cozy virtues of monopolies?

how-to-save-electric-billIt wasn’t that long ago that we all bought electricity from the electric company Boston Edison. In those days, they owned the lines, they made the power and the price was regulated.

Today one company, Eversource (formerly NStar) owns the power lines and you have a choice of providers. But buying electricity can be tricky if you’re unaware of natural gas price fluctuations, seasonal patterns and the details and limits of the deals you’re offered.

Brewster-based energy consultant Chris Powicki of Water, Energy and Ecology Information Services and the Cape and Islands Renewable Energy Collaborative, spoke to an audience of consumers at the Brewster Ladies’ Library recently and handed out a few tips on navigating the waters that sank Enron. It isn’t always easy. While the Cape Light Compact and Eversource are about to sell electricity for 9.6 cents and 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour respectively, two audience members noted they were paying 16 cents, twice as much, from an independent supplier.

And while Eversource is underselling the Compact by 1.4 cents as of July 1, even that is deceptive as Eversource re-prices twice a year and the Compact rate is a yearly rate for 2016. For the last six months the Compact was underselling Eversource and customers would’ve saved $45 on average; over the next six months they’ll pay $50 more.

In 2008 Massachusetts set a goal of cutting carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. That target won’t be met in 2020. There are two ways to trim emissions: utilize more “green” energy (wind, solar, hydro, etc.) or cut energy use. Green energy tends to cost more, conserving energy lowers your bill.

Currently there is a push to use ratepayer funds to help build additional natural gas pipelines to Massachusetts.

“All of this affects your bills,” Powicki noted. “New England is very dependent on natural gas (to generate electricity). When natural gas prices go up electricity goes up. During the last few years natural gas prices have dropped a lot (nationally) but electricity prices were still up. Fracking has driven gas prices down but in New England there is a pinch in the number of pipelines delivering gas from fracking areas like Pennsylvania.”

Natural gas prices are high here and so electric costs are close to the highest in the nation. The gas prices are highest during the winter so when electricity is priced in six month or monthly increments New England experiences seasonal price swings. The Compact smoothes out the swings by pricing annually but that results in higher fall prices and lower spring prices than Eversource.

“That’s why the government is pushing more pipeline capacity but other people say look to natural gas storage and more efficiency,” Powicki said. “National Grid buys in a different cycle than CLC or Eversource, a little earlier, so their prices change in May instead of July. Timing is important because of the up and down price fluctuations.”

Page 2 of 3 – Powicki said this is a game for big companies not consumers.

“You are never going to save a ton of money shopping for a competitive supplier. If you make a mistake you may have to pay more than you should. The best thing to do about your electric bill is pursue energy efficiency,” he declared.

You could install your own solar panels, or purchase shares in a off-site project such as Brewster’s Solar Garden alongside the water department, but the easiest option is the free energy audit provided by the Cape Light Compact, that can come with as much as $4,000 in assistance.

“You can hope for the best and stick with your current supplier, Con Ed Solutions via the Cape Light Compact,” Powicki noted.

The Cape Light Compact is the default supplier on Cape Cod but many people have switched to Eversource. If you are thinking of switching check out the state’s Let’s Go Shopping for Electric Supply website. There you can find a spreadsheet comparing prices from NRG, Spark Energy, Ethical Electric, Viridian, Energy Plus and many more providers available through NStar’s lines. Prices range from 8.2 cents per kwhr to 14.7 cents. But there are early termination fees of up to $200 that could wipe out any savings if you switch around and contracts vary from monthly to yearly. Municipal aggregators like the Compact are not included in the tables.

That’s why Powicki recommends you pick one of the “safe” suppliers and stick with them instead of trying to outguess the market. And never give out your account number on the phone – with that a supplier can switch your plan without permission.

“Think of it as a stock market model,” suggested Senior Analyst Brianna Kane of the Compact. “They are selling a great rate for a short time for a number of customers because that’s how they bought it (as a teaser). But the rates go up and down constantly.”

“How long is the priced fixed for? Six months, a year, one month?” Powicki asked. “Compare six month fixed with six month fixed, apples to apples. How long is the contract? Three months, three years? What is the termination fee? If you buy at a fixed rate you insulate yourself.”

You can also control how green your electricity is.

“Con Ed Solutions (the Compact supplier) trades in a market buying at different times, layering their suppliers. It is a fossil fuel heavy product, 21 percent of their product is matched to renewable fuels using renewable energy certificates (RECs),” Powicki said. “CLC offers products that are 50 percent green and 100 percent green. You are buying additional RECs.”

Page 3 of 3 – Those green products are a little more expensive; 10.5 cents per kwhr for the 50-percent plan and 11.2 for 100 percent. That’s the green premium.

But energy efficient light bulbs, water heaters, humidifiers and more heat tight homes will save you money year round regardless of what the rates are.

“Energy audits are no risk and guaranteed savings,” Powicki said.

“And you don’t have to purchase power from CLC for an audit,” added Dean Keuch, Brewster’s CLC representative.