Helping Customers Understand Their Utility Bills
TORRANCE - When it comes to utility bills, there’s one question everyone wants to know: How much am I paying?
It’s a question Tracy Ou gets asked a lot. By day she works on advertising at Southern California Edison. But she is also part of a group of volunteer employees who are helping reach out to ethnic communities to educate customers about upcoming changes in their rates.
“If it doesn’t increase their bills, changes are often overlooked,” said Ou of the Chinese community. “But if it impacts their bill, they will pay attention.”
As part of a recent briefing in Torrance, SCE rates experts explained that rate changes are coming on June 1. Residential customers may see a monthly increase of about $2 for low-use customers and $4 for medium-use customers. High-use customers will see a slight decrease in their bills, getting some relief for past rates that included subsidies for other customers.
For low-income customers who are low-to-medium energy users, their rates will not increase. But like all customers, they may see higher bills in the summer because of increased air-conditioning usage.
The changes are due to SCE’s and the California Public Utilities Commission’s efforts to reform customer rates that were put in place during the energy crisis in 2001.
Residential customers will move from four rate tiers to three: low usage, medium usage and high usage. Some additional changes from the commission will take effect in 2017 — moving from three rate tiers to two. Residential customers will begin to transition to time-of-use rates in 2019, which will provide customers more control over their bills based on “when” and “how much” power they use.
“There’s always confusion in the community about what causes bills to change or increase,” said Robert Laffoon Villegas, an SCE spokesperson who recently joined Ou at the briefing. “Customers are looking for information so they can predict what their bill is going to be.”
Villegas is helping to reach out to Spanish-speaking customers — a community that is heavily represented throughout SCE’s territory, from Long Beach to Blythe. And he believes it’s important to get the word out about rate changes as soon as possible.
He notes the bottom line is: “The more you use, the more you will pay, so conservation is key. You can take advantage of programs that can save you money.”
That’s why Ou likes to answer the second-most common question: How can customers take control of their bills, specifically how to reduce them?
“They want to know how they can save on their bill,” she said. She says it’s all about conservation and reducing energy usage. “If there is no change in their usage habits, they won’t be able to change their bill.”
SCE offers several tools to help customers conserve energy and manage their bills. This includes a Bill Estimator tool that will show you how the rate changes will affect your bill: on.sce.com/ratechange. The Home Energy Advisor tool helps customers find ways to conserve. Customers can also see what rebates they qualify for: on.sce.com/residential. Finally, SCE offers time-of-use rate options which can help to lower bills because customers can control when they use electricity and how much.
“Customers need to understand how their bill works so they can make choices that make sense for them and take control of their energy costs,” said Villegas.