As another wave of frigid temperatures impacts central Maryland this week, BGE is providing enhanced billing options to help customers with current and future energy bills, in response to a significant increase in customer usage. According to the WSI Weather Service, this winter has been 11 percent colder than last winter to date, and as a result customer energy usage has increased, on average, by 10 percent in the month of January alone, compared to last year. Starting Jan. 29, customers may contact BGE to discuss their Budget Billing and other special payment options.
“To assist customers with high winter heating bills, we are offering customers immediate enrollment into our Budget Billing program, which spreads payments out over a 12 month period so customers aren’t as affected by seasonal increases in usage,” said Carol Dodson, vice president and chief customer officer for BGE. “Typically, the enrollment process takes a full billing cycle. Customers who wish to enroll in Budget Billing should call BGE at 800.685.0123 and we will incorporate their current winter bills, thus spreading out their utility costs over a full-year average. ”
In direct response to spikes in customer usage from extreme temperatures, BGE is now offering customers an opportunity to enroll in a retroactive Budget Billing program to assist customers with higher-than-normal energy bills. For customers who have up to $500 in arrearages, the company is allowing those customers to enroll in the new retroactive Budget Billing program as well to help alleviate the increase from the current colder-than-normal winter season.
Customers who may have more than $500 in arrearages are encouraged to call BGE to discuss their payment options as well. Limited income customers are strongly encouraged to apply for energy assistance before they are in crisis. For more information, call BGE or contact the Office of Home Energy Programs (OHEP) at 800.352.1446. Residents of Baltimore City should call 410.396.5555. Grants can help address past-due amounts as well as future payments. Learn more at bge.com/financialassistance.
For customers who purchase their gas and electric supply from BGE, the new Budget Billing amount would reflect the total BGE bill, including commodity and delivery amounts. For customers who purchase their supply from a third-party supplier, the Budget Billing amount will only cover the BGE delivery service charges. Some third-party suppliers may offer a similar service as BGE’s Budget Billing program, but others do not. Customers who currently purchase their supply from a third-party supplier and wish to know their billing options should reach out directly to their supplier.
Although BGE gas and electric commodity prices remained stable throughout December and January, without taking steps to save energy during these times, energy bills will reflect additional usage and will be higher than in months when temperatures are more moderate.
In February, BGE anticipates that the commodity price for natural gas will increase; however, BGE’s acquisition strategy helps limit the impact of rising prices during months when demand is increasing and customers who purchase their natural gas from BGE should not see a significant impact from the rising commodity price in the global energy market.
Due to BGE’s “revenue decoupling” mechanism, the company does not benefit financially from customers using more energy during abnormally cold or hot weather conditions. For example, in January any increase in delivery service revenues per customer above a weather normalized historic average, is balanced by a lowering of the Delivery Service rate for all customers in that rate class in March. In March, BGE is expecting that this will result in a 10 percent decrease in the residential electric distribution rate. Residential gas delivery service rates are expected to be similarly reduced in March. These rate decreases will continue in future months until the full amount has been flowed back to customers.
“As we enter into the third consecutive week where temperatures have dropped below freezing, BGE reminds customers that while we cannot control the weather, we can control how we use and save energy during the colder winter months,” said Dodson. “Extremely low temperatures will likely cause energy usage to increase, even for customers who leave their thermostats at a set temperature, as heating system need to work harder to maintain that set temperature. The WinterReady section on bge.com is specifically designed to help customers weather the cold temperatures that affect central Maryland each year.”
BGE reminds customers of low-to-no cost tips for saving energy and money, despite the extreme temperatures. The following are steps that all customers can take to reduce energy consumption and lower heating bills:
- During the winter, heating systems typically account for more than 40 percent of customers’ energy bills. For systems other than heat pumps, set thermostats at 68 degrees F, if health allows. For every degree below 73 degrees, customers can see a 2-4 percent decrease in energy use.
- Customers who heat with older model electric heat pumps are especially vulnerable to sharp increases in usage when auxiliary heating is activated during cold weather. On days where the temperature dips below freezing, a heat pump can use 2 to 3 times as much energy as it does compared to periods where the temperature is above 30 to 40 degrees. Customers who heat with heat pumps should check with the manufacturer for recommendations on the temperature setting to ensure that systems are working at the highest efficiency.
- Natural gas customers should consider setting the thermostat to 68 degrees during the day and 65 degrees at night. This can help customers see a 3-4 percent decrease in energy use.
- Change the furnace filter regularly. A dirty filter forces the furnace to work harder.
- Install an approved insulation blanket around the water heater and insulate the first three feet of water pipe (keep insulation at least 6 inches from the flue on gas water heaters).
- Lower the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees F and conserve hot water when you can. Heating water is the second largest use of energy in your home in the winter months.
- Open curtains and drapes during the day, to let the sun warm your home, and close them at night for insulation.
- Don’t heat unused spaces. Close vents in unused rooms and shut doors to unused rooms, closets and basements.
- Caulk and weather strip windows and doors to keep cold air out.
- Check/add attic insulation to reach a level of R-38 or 12 inches.
- Wash clothes in cold or warm water and rinse in cold water to reduce water heater usage.
- Over the long term, make your home or business more energy efficient, using BGE’s Quick Home Energy Check-up or Home Performance with ENERGY STAR, improved insulation, high efficiency appliances and other measures.
- Have the furnace checked by a licensed professional to be sure it is operating efficiently and seal any leaks in furnace ducts. BGE offers rebates for these and other home efficiency improvements through the BGE Smart Energy Savers Program®.
“While colder temperatures are the primary driver for increased energy use during the heating season, there are many other contributing factors, some of which may not be as obvious,” continued Dodson. “When it’s bitter cold outside, many families spend more time at home, cooking, watching television, and using computers and other electronics. We encourage you to talk to your family about simple steps everyone can take each day, to decrease energy use in your household.”
Shopping for a competitive third-party supplier, combined with the offerings of BGE’s Smart Energy Savers Program®, provides customers with many options for reducing their energy bill and better managing energy costs this winter. For more information on Energy Choice visit bge.com/energychoice. Customers are also encouraged to visit bge.com and www.bgesmartenergy.com for more energy-saving tips.