Monday, January 18, 2010

Watching Out For You
It’s hard enough trying to determine whether to fix your energy price for one year much less two. There are many strategies you can employ. Here are a few:
  • Coin flip
  • Fix ... wha?
  • Be done with it
  • Ask one question
Before we discuss these strategies, let’s look at what an energy supplier does to determine a one- or two-year fixed price. Essentially, a supplier will gather your historic consumption or use the consumption of someone (or group of someones) that resembles the way you consume power. While we are all individuals and clearly not like anyone else, during the course of the day you wake up, you shower, you eat breakfast and leave for work. Nine or 12 hours later, you return home, relax and then hit the hay.

Maybe that is not your everyday pattern, but it’s probably a lot of your days and those days have a fairly predictable pattern of energy consumption. Suppliers use your annual pattern of energy use and a set of monthly prices to determine your annual price. A supplier can do this for one year or two with the same confidence in your consumption. (Beginning to feel like you might be in a bit of a rut?)

So the great thing about a fixed price is that you can consume as you wish. Each time you turn on a light, the price is the same. But, obviously, leaving the lights on all the time means you’ll pay more since you use more.

The question is,do you want it to cost you the same amount for one year or two? So back to the strategies listed above:

The coin flip: What do you supplier types think I am …an economist? Let’s just say the coin flip is 50/50.

Be done with it: Like I don’t have enough decisions in my life between car insurance, health-care plans, etc. One fewer decision is that much better, so fix it for two years.

Fix ... wha? I have a supplier? I have a choice? When did this happen? Maybe if you fall in this category, you should talk to someone in our Customer Service Department (845) 805-8586.

Ask one question: This strategy is easier than it might sound. When getting price quotes, ask for both the one-year and the two-year prices. If the one-year price is higher than the two-year price, this indicates that the current year is more expensive than the next. This is a good time to fix the two-year price because you can lock in a lower price for a longer period of time. If the two-year price is more expensive than the one-year price, you may want to only fix your price for one year.

The bottom line for you:
Do a little homework, ask a few questions, and you’ll be able to navigate through those different plans.

Energy Savings Tips
Much of the country is locked in a bitter arctic grasp. That means thermostats are going up and heating bills are too.

For many, an increase may be too much to handle, especially as the recession enters its sixth fiscal quarter. Jobs are still scarce and the economy is still deciding if it wants to rebound.

The good news is that home-heating assistance is available on all levels, from federal to state and local. Here are two you (or someone you know) may be eligible for.

Home Energy Assistance Program: HEAP helps if you are having trouble paying your heating bill. You are eligible if you receive Supplemental Security Income, Food Stamps or Temporary Assistance. You may also be eligible for emergency benefits if your heat has been or is about to be shut off, you are in danger of running out of fuel or your heating equipment is inoperable.

HEAP is federally funded, but many states have their own programs, which have received money from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Weatherization Assistance Program: WAP helps you increase the energy efficiency of your home and reduce your household energy costs. You are eligible if you receive Supplemental Security Income or Percentage of Income Payment Plan. You may be eligible if you have children, have one or more members with a disability or are over age 60. WAP has been given a $5 billion infusion from the stimulus bill.

For more information about these programs or others on a state or local level, contact:

New York: Division of Housing and Community Renewal - (866) 275-3427
New Jersey: Department of Community Affairs - (609) 292-6420
Texas: Department of Housing and Community Affairs - (512) 475-3800
Ohio: Department of Development - (614) 466-6797
Maryland: Department of Housing and Community Development - (410) 514-7000
Virginia: Department of Housing and Community Development - (804) 371-7000
District of Columbia: Energy Office - (202) 673-6700
Kentucky: Housing Corporation - (502) 564-7630
Pennsylvania: Department of Community and Economic Development - (717) 787-1984

Energy News
So Santa brought your family a sleigh full of electronics for Christmas. Our love of power-hogging electronics is growing exponentially, according to the International Energy Agency. The average household has approximately 25 electronic gadgets and that number is expected to triple in the next 20 years.

The worst offenders are flat-screen TVs. Some models are bigger energy hogs than refrigerators. Since 1990 when energy standards were put in place, fridges have gotten about 45 percent more efficient and washers about 70 percent more efficient. Hopefully, TVs will soon be as well. But until then, we’re spending more time in front of our 60-inch wall-hung Samsungs: an average of five hours a day. Many households leave the TV (or TVs) on as background even while not parked in front of it. This wastes energy.

There are simple ways to conserve.

The first is obvious: turn the TV off when no one is watching.

Others take a couple of button pushes on the remote. (Here’s where you need to grab your owner’s manual.) Some high-definition TVs have a mode that allows them to be turned on and working almost immediately. This is often called a Quick Start mode. It may make your TV turn on quicker, but it also can consumeup to 50 percent more energy. You can change the setting so that TV will take a few more seconds to power up. Trust us, you can wait.

Another mode you can change is the Power Saver mode. If your TV has this, it probably isn’t set up from the factory. This mode is designed to do exactly what its name implies: save power. For some TVs, turning this mode on will dim the picture slightly. On other models, there may be a significant change in brightness. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth it. You can also dim your TV’s backlight, which again will dim the picture. TVs often come from the factory with this setting turned all the way up.

Another huge power drainer is a videogame console. One study suggested that consoles consume about 16 billion kWh a year. SIXTEEN BILLION. About 40 percent of U.S. homes have a console, and 14 percent have more than one. These little guys suck down power because they’re often never turned off. Blame that on the manufacturers, whether Xbox, PlayStation or Wii (the least offender), who have designed consoles that make it hard to save a game. So, instead of erasing all those days logged playing "Super Mario," the kids just leave the gadget on, ready to resume as soon as dinner or homework are done. But a console left on 24/7 can consume as much electricity in a year as TWO refrigerators. Consoles use less than 3 watts when turned off. But when left in either Idle or Active mode, can use up to 150 watts, according to a study by the National Resources Defense Council and Ecos Consulting.

Chalk up the evolution of the console to increased energy usage. Today’s games are more realistic with more-powerful graphics processors. (That’s one reason why the more-simplistic Wii is an energy sipper compared to other brands.) Add in the fact that some consoles are multi-functional: not only do they play games, but also DVDs; they allow Internet access and networking capabilities; they offer built-in hard drives, 3D graphics and online gaming. All these eat up the watts. In fact, using your gaming console as a Blu-ray player can eat up almost SEVEN times the power of an actual Blu-ray machine. Using it as a DVD player can eat up almost TWENTY FOUR times the power.

So how do you conserve?

The easiest way is to plug the console into a power strip, and then turn the strip off at the end of each session. Of course, this means that the game automatically ends or you’re staying up forever until you finish. Unplugging the console for one hour a day can save you about $7 a year for a Wii, $92 for an Xbox 360 and $122 for a PlayStation, according to the National Resources Defense Council/Ecos Consulting study.

You can also, just like with your TV, change the power-management features if your brand has them. Xbox 360 and PS3 do, so check your owner’s manual.

There’s also good news from the manufacturers. According to industry experts, the average lifespan for a console is roughly five years, the cycle that manufacturers have taken to release next-generation consoles. With energy conservation as a goal (and increasing public mandate), next generations should include standard and easier-to-navigate power management settings, more-efficient power supplies and built-in scaling capabilities. Improving the next generation could save 11 billion kWh annually, which translates to a $1 billion savings on energy bills for consumers.

That should help your pocketbook with the monthly energy bill after you shell out for the latest console.