Good Luck to Our Street Light Auditors in Jefferson Parish!

I just wanted to send a quick shout-out to our street light field workers in Jefferson Parish today. They travelled from Waco, TX to Jefferson Parish, LA earlier this week to perform a field check for the street light audit we are doing for the Parish. They are doing a great job checking the lights to make sure they are there and operating as they should be. Not only does this help the citizens of Jefferson Parish stay safe on the streets, but we are also hoping to save the tax payers money on any street light overbillings we find. We have received reports back that there has been rain, but it has not stopped our auditors’ efforts.

We also received a couple photos back from them of some beautiful street art in the Parish and a neat restaurant called Frostop that had 3 slot machines inside the restaurant! This is something you do not see here in Texas. Good luck street light auditors and thank you Jefferson Parish for allowing TriStem to audit your utility bills!

TEPA Monthly Meeting – Oncor Portal

Greetings utility consumers! We had a great time at the monthly TEPA meeting in Dallas, TX at the Hotel Zaza, sponsored by Engie, and wanted to share the news with you. For those who are not familiar with TEPA, it stands for The Energy Professionals Association. TriStem is a member of this great organization that brings together Aggregators, Brokers, Utility Consultants and Utility Companies to learn how to better serve our clients. Here is a link to their website:

TEPA – The Energy Professionals Association

At this meeting we learned that Oncor has created an online portal for Aggregators, Brokers, & Utility Consultants specifically for obtaining historical billing data. This is great news, considering that monthly historical billing data is needed in our business for many different reasons, such as:

  • Reviewing historical consumption for billing errors and discrepancies.
  • Providing historical usage data to REP’s for energy procurement quotes.
  • Analyzing load and power factor for efficiency problems.

This is great news for our clients because it allows us to obtain the historical usage quickly and analyze their bills faster (for those in Oncor territory). Hopefully other Utilities and REP’s will follow Oncor’s footsteps and create similar portals for aggregators, brokers and consultants (ABC’s). The number of ABC’s has increased drastically over the past 10 years due to the impact of deregulated energy markets. It is important to have energy experts, like the team at TriStem, to analyze your bills for errors and make sure you are on the best rate possible.

We also learned how to enroll customers in the My Oncor Alerts system which notifies customers of outages via text, email or voice. If you are having an outage, there is a way to report this information to Oncor online. See brochure below.

Aside from learning about Oncor’s portal and My Oncor Alerts, we were able to meet and speak with a few great folks who work at Hudson Energy. Hotel Zaza had a unique atmosphere and the staff was very accommodating. Thank you TEPA, Oncor, Hotel Zaza, & Engie for the great meeting!

 

Oncor.com

Engie Resources.com

TEPAUSA.org

TriStem.com

7 BIGGEST OVERSIGHTS BY PUBLIC FINANCE OFFICIALS WHEN TRYING TO REDUCE UTILITY COSTS

According to a study conducted by the Government Finance Officers Association, one of the top challenges faced by public finance officials is the struggle to balance decreasing revenues with increasing costs of services. Entities are continually searching for ways to stabilize or reduce expenditures, including utility costs which can make up 15% or more of the overall budget. When it comes to these vital services, you’ve likely implemented a number of well-known strategies in lowering costs like installing more efficient lighting, investing in programmable thermostats and encouraging staff to minimize wasteful usage. But you don’t know what you don’t know. Following are some of the most common oversights that, when corrected, can lead to significant utility cost savings.

1. OVERLOOKING EASY FIXES

Public agencies have made great strides in recent years to become more energy efficient and reduce consumption of electricity, water and natural gas. These measures, while at times costly and time-consuming up front, can result in substantial cost reductions years into the future. The funny thing is, sometimes you can make significant bill reductions with some fairly easy steps.
What some public agencies don’t stop to look at is to see if they’re being charged for taxes and other line items they’re exempt from. Local, County, and State sales tax can add up to hundreds of dollars a month on just one utility account. There are other charges your accounts may be exempt from depending on the geographic location of service.
Are you paying on accounts that show no consumption month after month? These are likely abandoned facilities whose utility accounts could be disconnected with a quick call to your vendors, easily cutting hundreds to thousands of dollars in unnecessary costs.

2. NOT FULLY INVESTIGATING ABNORMALITIES

Was there an unusual spike in usage at one of your facilities? Did a new charge suddenly appear on your account that you don’t understand? In spite of efficiency measures, are your energy costs not going down? When changes (or lack thereof) in your accounts raise a red flag, you or an assigned staff member will investigate. However, lack of expertise with these types of irregularities typically result in you throwing your hands up because you aren’t getting answers from the utility vendor, or, the vendor’s customer service rep explains away the anomaly. If your instincts tell you something doesn’t seem right, it often
takes persistence and Sherlock Holmes-level detective work to uncover the source – and validity – of abnormal billings. Ask your Facilities or Maintenance Manager if changes in operational characteristics of a building could’ve resulted in higher-than-normal usage. For new charges on your account, ask to speak with your utility vendor’s rate department for an explanation – customer service reps don’t receive the training needed to provide this information. If efforts to reduce energy consumption haven’t yielded the savings you expected, talk with all parties involved in implementing these strategies to figure out what’s going on.
Some questionable bills may not seem worth the effort needed to get to the bottom of the problem. But the more time you take to ask questions, the more you’ll understand the nuances of your facilities’ consumption and vendor billing practices, enabling you to better address discrepancies when they appear in the future.

3. FAILING TO AUDIT YOUR OUTDOOR LIGHTING

In most parts of the U.S., energy for street and security lights isn’t billed off meter readings; instead, lights are billed on a flat rate depending on a number of factors – lamp wattage, fixture type, pole type, ownership, and maintenance responsibility are some of the variants that determine the monthly cost for each light. It’s vital that the owner of the lights – usually the electric utility – keep an accurate inventory of these details and update their records each time a change is made. Customers have a right to review the utility’s inventory and should do so annually to identify any errors.
Are there lights that have been converted from older technologies like Mercury Vapor and Incandescent to newer more efficient High Pressure Sodium or LED lamps? If the utility isn’t recording these changes in their inventory, the monthly billing won’t be accurate. Are there areas in your City where light poles have been removed for construction or revitalization projects? If you don’t check the accuracy of the streetlight inventory, there’s a good chance you’ll still be paying for some of these lights long after they’ve been taken down. With streetlights being one of largest electric expenses for cities, correcting errors in the inventory – and in turn the billing – could eliminate thousands of dollars a year in wasted funds.

4. NOT LOOKING AT ALTERNATE ENERGY PROVIDERS

If you live in an area where energy is deregulated, you have the opportunity to select your electric or gas supplier from dozens of options. While most government entities have taken advantage of retail competition, once choosing a supplier many customers fail to shop around and simply renew with the same company each time their contract is nearing expiration. It’s great to remain loyal to a vendor who has served you well, but if you’re looking for ways to reduce costs you can often save money by switching to a different supplier. Much like shopping for insurance rates, there are plenty of reputable companies out there who will offer and provide the same level of service for varying prices. Switching to a supplier who proposes to charge a half-cent less per kilowatthour than your current provider doesn’t sound worth the trouble, but that half-cent can save your organization tens of thousands of dollars per year – just think of the projects those funds could be used for!

5. FAILING TO REACH OUT TO UTILITY VENDORS

Although not often advertised, many utility companies have programs available to assist customers in reducing their costs. Some offer free audits to identify find ways to cut consumption, while others offer rebates or discounts for installing more efficient HVAC, lighting, windows, or water fixtures. Utility providers regard energy conservation as an important resource – it reduces greenhouse gases, saves money for customers, and creates jobs. Search each of your utility vendor’s websites to uncover what programs exist or call for details.

6. NOT USING BENCHMARKING PROCESSES TO EVALUATE USAGE AND COSTS

Public finance officers use benchmarking when evaluating project performance and investments, developing budgets and in a variety of other areas. Why not use benchmarking processes to evaluate your energy performance? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, businesses can reduce their energy costs by up to 30% by assessing energy usage, setting energy-savings goals and regularly evaluating progress. Benchmarking serves as a diagnostic tool, allowing you to analyze current and past usage, compare similar buildings and identify areas where cost reductions can be made.
There are plenty of options available for benchmarking your facilities’ utility data – depending on the number of buildings you need to benchmark, you can use anything from a basic Excel spreadsheet, to complex energy management software, or even free online benchmarking tools offered by the federal government. Whatever you decide to use, expect to reap returns by uncovering savings opportunities.

7. FAILING TO LOOK OUTSIDE YOUR ORGANIZATION FOR HELP

A great way to reduce utility costs and remove the burden of doing the work yourself is to seek help from organizations who specialize in the very goal you want to achieve. Energy Audit firms conduct a thorough analysis of your buildings’ equipment and controls, then provide a comprehensive report on upgrades and maintenance that can reduce usage. Energy Service Companies (commonly known as ESCOs) plan, implement and monitor projects recommended by Energy Audit firms. Energy Brokers help you procure energy in deregulated markets at the best possible price. Utility Bill Audit firms analyze the utility vendor invoices, focusing on billing corrections and other changes on your accounts that can save you money.
Whether you focus on correcting one, a few, or all seven of these “mistakes”, your actions will pay dividends in the form of lower utility expenditures and in some cases even refunds. Now that you know more about ways to reduce your utility costs, what are you waiting for? Take action and see what it can do for your bottom line.

Trisha Menchu is President of TriStem, Ltd., a firm specializing in utility cost recovery and savings for public agencies through audits of their electric, gas, streetlight, telecom, water and waste expenses. To learn more, contact Trisha at: trisha.menchu@tristem.com or visit http://www.tristem.com.

Although this article is about life insurance, the same ideas can be applied to the electric & gas utility industries. If you don’t completely understand your electric bill or contract, you could have been overcharged for an extended period of time without even knowing it! TriStem Ltd can not only help you understand your bill, but we can help you save money, take control and reduce your utility costs going forward.Utility article

City of Killeen Street Light Field Work

TriStem recently completed a review of the City of Killeen and the City of Copperas Cove’s guard lights. As a part of our audits, we go out in the field to check the accuracy of the our clients’ lighting bills. These field visits are always full of surprises!

We found several broken lights and a strange twisted light. Approximately 10% of the lights we checked were broken or missing the dome. This is alarming considering that street light maintenance is included in the cost per light.

Aside from the broken lights, we came across a field of sunflowers, a strange assortment of stop signs, and a gaggle of geese! There was even a guard light located in the middle of the field of sunflowers with vines growing up the side. We hope that light is not included in the City’s bill.  One of the sunflowers made it all the way back to Waco, to brighten up the office! Thank you City of Killeen and City of Copperas Cove for letting TriStem be of service to you and your citizens!

Article Describes Fraudulent Websites in the Texas Deregulated Electric Industry

Over 10 years since our founder, Joe Seeber, published Wired for Greed, the electric industry is still ripe with fraud. This article talks about deceptive websites pretending to be the official State of Texas Power to Choose website. It’s sad that certain companies are taking advantage of those who are not familiar with the electricity market.

Watchdog: Don’t let phony 1-cent electricity plans and knockoff websites fool you

 

Electric company charges woman for street lights for 25 YEARS! Returns $10,000 in overcharges

Here is an interesting article about a woman who was unknowingly paying for 2 street lights on her block.  Did you know that municipalities are frequently billed incorrectly on street lights? A majority of our clients have street light billing errors.  Electric companies are not always the best at keeping their records straight…

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/electric-company-charges-woman-street-lights-25-years-returns-10-000-overcharges-article-1.1136350