Like most people, I normally don’t pay much attention to my electrical bill. I check that my usage (kWh) is about where it should be, and that my total cost is about where I expect it to be. On average, we Americans spend 6 minutes per year thinking about our electrical bills. I’m in the electrical industry, so I spend more time thinking about it than most, but I still don’t spend much time thinking about my bill! (I’d say 15 minutes per month, tops!)
Let’s face it, the design of the static paper electrical bill is really bad design, and it’s just plain ugly! It’s difficult to understand, and even more difficult to understand for what you’re really paying. (Hopefully, someone will come up with some way to show me my electrical bill that helps me better understand what’s going on…) But, when something like this shows up on my ComEd, I start to take notice:
Why in the world is ComEd giving me money back? That’s not like them at all! I could have sworn that I was paying something for that line item last month! And, just exactly is the “Environmental Cost Recovery Adj”?
The good news is that I’m just enough of an energy nerd to find out what exactly is going on here. (In fact, some would even call me an “energy engi-nerd”.) That way, you can just read the article below, and not have to do any research to figure out what’s going on. That’s nice of me, isn’t it?
The first place to look is at ComEd’s rate book. The ICC (Illinois Commerce Commission) requires ComEd and Ameren to push their rate books on their web sites. (This is the case for regulated utilities in every state.) So, I can go download it and find out exactly what this charge is on my bill. (Feel free to download your own copy here – https://www.comed.com/customer-service/rates-pricing/rates-information/Pages/current-rates.aspx – and play along at home. Just a word of caution, it is 553 pages of rather technical jargon. I am a professional… don’t try this at home.)
I went ahead and downloaded the latest ComEd rate book this morning. Sure enough, if you look at the latest information sheet for the Environmental Cost Recovery Adj, it shows that the rate for this line item for the month of November is negative. In fact, it’s going to be negative in December as well.
What about the rate for October? Was it negative then too? This is where ComEd’s website is less helpful. ComEd replaced the pdf every time a new rate book becomes effective. Luckily for all of us, I tend to download the ComEd rate book on a regular basis, so I have a rate book from earlier in October that shows the October rate for the Environmental Cost Recovery Adj. (Whew! I really dodged a bullet on that one!) And, it does turn out that the rate for October was positive:
This seems a little goofy to me. Why is the rate positive in September and October, negative in November and December, only to become positive again in January? Maybe if I can find out what the rate is for, it might shed a little more light on the subject. Luckily, by looking in ComEd’s rate book on page 254, I can find a description of this line item, and what it stands for. Feel free to read the 5 pages ComEd dedicated to explaining this one line item, or read my highlights below. (Aren’t you glad I’m here to save you from all the hard stuff?)
ComEd’s Rider ECR – Environmental Cost Recovery Adjustment, the Reader’s Digest version:
Reimburses ComEd for the costs of “remediation or other treatment of environmental contamination at or associated” with former manufactured gas plant sites. Costs “include, but are not limited to, (a) fees, charges, billings, assessments, land costs, … (b) costs or expenses associated with the pursuit of insurance…, (c) costs or expenses associated with judgments, orders or decisions, including settlements…; and (d) legal, litigation, and settlement costs…”
And it goes on from there for another 4 pages.
So, in a nut shell, the reason why we’re getting a credit on our ComEd bill related to this charge is that ComEd collect more money from its customers during the early part of the year than ComEd needed to cover its Environment Costs Recovery costs associated with remediating the “former manufactured gas plant sites”. Because the money collected exceeds that costs that were paid, ComEd is being kind enough to return that money to us, the rate – payers. Doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy?
So, first ComEd collects more money from me than they should have! They’re giving it back to me now, but what about the interest I could have earned on it! It is just fractions of a penny, but it’s the principle of the matter! And second, the reason they’re collecting this money in the first place is to fix an environmental issue they created years ago when they decided to build these plants. I didn’t decide to build the manufacturing gas plant, so why should I have to pay for it after the fact. But, the part that bugs me most of all is that if ComEd does a bad job of remediation at any of these sites, and we need to sue them in order for the issue to be properly addresses, we – the rate payers – will see this cost increase on our electrical bills, because ComEd can include all of these costs, per part (c) and part (d), in the calculation of this fee. So if I sue ComEd over this, I’m going to end up paying for their lawyers so they can defend themselves against my suit, and I’m going to end up paying for any settlement they have to give me!
None of this feels right; someone was definitely asleep at the wheel when this one was passed.
So, maybe this is why we should be paying attention to what’s going with our electrical bill. So, it’s only a 2 – 3 cents per bill, what does it matter? Well, like I’m fond of doing, let’s put some math around it:
(2.5 cents / bill) x (3.8 million ComEd customers) x (12 bills / year) x ($1 / 100 cents) =
Every year, we give ComEd $1.1 million to fix a mistake they made. And, the reason they can get away with it, is because we don’t pay that close of attention. And, I bet you it’s not the only charge on our electricity bill that’s goofy like this. There’s got to be a better way for us to understand for what we’re paying! There’s got to be a better way for us to know how to reduce what we pay! (And, to do so without spending a ton of time on it.)
It’s our electricity; there’s got to be a better way…