The energy savings were only on paper

BG&E explains away $326.79 in credit

August 08, 2012|Susan Reimer

During the winter, my husband sleeps in a fleece jacket and claims that his nose is dusted with frost in the mornings.

When my daughter, Jessie, returned from college, she unpacked her window air conditioner first and installed it in her bedroom because, she complained, I kept the house too hot.

That summer it was cold enough in her room to hang sides of beef, and she spent her nights snuggled deeply under a comforter.

Still, I am the queen of the thermostat in my house, and my Baltimore Gas & Electric bills would regularly reflect that.

I am a member of the budget billing program, and the savings generated by my parsimony were regularly credited to my account, and some bills were hilariously small. And I was often able to negotiate my budget bill amount downward with a simple phone call.

Not anymore.

BG&E is sitting on $326.79 of my money — deep into one of the hottest summers on record, I say proudly. But they aren't going to give any of it back.

What's more, my request that they adjust my static monthly bill amount to reflect my economies was denied, too.

I'm not due for a "review" at this time, said the woman in the billing office. So I will be paying $110 in each of the next couple of months, despite the fact that BG&E has about three months worth of my money.

Aren't you glad you don't owe us $900, asked the woman in the billing office? Because we'd be asking for that money now.

"But I don't owe you $900," I said. "You owe me $326.79. And not only are you not giving any of it back, you are planning to collect more from me. And I have to wait two months before you will consider stopping."

BG&E, with tropical storms and derechos so clear in its downed-power line memory, was now facing Tropical Storm Susan. It didn't seem like a smart move, customer service-wise.

"Aren't there enough people mad at you?" I asked the woman in the billing office. Possibly, she said, but the guy who owes that theoretical $900 would almost certainly be grateful.

"But I am real," I said. "And you owe me $326.79."

There was plenty of warning from BG&E in January about changes in their budget billing system. I read all the announcements. This week.

But even if I had seen them in January, I would not have concluded that I could run up a big surplus and not have any recourse. It looks to me, reading about the changes now, that they were made for the guy who could end up owing the utility the theoretical $900. The new, regular monitoring would prevent such a deficit from accumulating.

The power of the press is such that I was able to get three BG&E executives on a conference call to explain things to me. (Don't try this at home.)

In a couple of months, and every three months thereafter, they said, BG&E will tally up the energy I have used in the last 12 months, subtract my $326.79 (or add $900 in the case of that poor theoretical guy) and divide the total by 12. That amount will be my monthly budget bill for the next 12 months.

(Actually, it will be my bill for the next three months, when another adjustment might be made, so let's not count our chickens. By the way, BG&E used to make educated guesses about what your bill should be going forward.)

And in the meantime, BG&E is paying me a half a percent a month interest on my surplus while not charging any fees for people with budget billing deficits of, like, $900, and you can't argue with that.

That's all very nice, but the bottom line is I am never going to see my $326.79, except as a miserable few adjusted dollars each month over the next 12 months. Which is not the same as an airplane ticket or a weekend at the beach or three months of no gas and electric bills.

It is probably in the rules that BG&E has to tell you how much money you have not spent on energy during a particular billing cycle. But after wrangling with me, I bet they wish they could bury those numbers underground. Like the power lines.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. Her email is

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