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Customers wary of peak-time billing plan

Madison Mathews • Feb 23, 2013 at 9:21 PM

With the Johnson City Power Board’s new peak-time use billing policy on the horizon, many customers are voicing their concerns about what it could mean for their monthly bills.

The program, which has been adopted by the Tennessee Valley Authority and will be initiated by the Power Board in the fall, will charge a higher rate for electricity used during peak periods of high demand.

Peak-use periods change according to the season but typically range from 5-11 a.m. in the winter months to 2-8 p.m. in the summer.

Gray resident Susanne Seiler is not a fan of the utility’s smart meters, and she believes the new billing policy is going to cause inconveniences for families, especially those who have low incomes.

“I think that’s going to put crunches in people’s lives that they don’t need,” she said.

The Power Board is still in negotiations with TVA officials to determine what the retail customer rates will be for peak and non-peak times.

Until the rate is decided, customers like Danielle Russell are not sure how much they will be affected by the new policy.

“I guess it depends on how the prices are going up. If it’s just a little I don’t think it’s going to affect me. If it’s going to skyrocket, we’ll wash our clothes at night or something,” she said.

Russell recently moved to the area from Boulder, Colo., where she had higher power bills than in Johnson City.

Even if prices go up, Russell said she doesn’t think it will affect her very much.

“I guess it’s more of a supply and demand thing that they’re going through so much during the day. I don’t know. I don’t think it’s really going to affect me, to be honest. We have really low power bills,” Russell said.

Officials with the Power Board plan on rolling out a massive public relations campaign over the next several months in order to educate customers about the time-of-use policy. The campaign will include education on bill presentment, bill inserts, town hall meetings, paid advertisements, web-based education, videos, social media, podcasts, blogs, a mobile app, newsletters and press releases.

Members of the Power Board’s board of directors will join utility employees in a pilot program in order to gain a better understanding of how the change will impact customers. Employees will be encouraged but not required to participate.

Robert White, the utility’s chief public relations officer, likened the time-of-use energy policy to a similar policy used by the cell phone industry.

Cell phone carriers allow unlimited minutes after a certain time to encourage customers, while charging customers a fee if they go over their allotted minutes.

White said it costs more to produce energy during those peak-use times and by spreading out one’s energy use, customers will be able to reduce their bills.

“If we’re not creating new peaks, we’re not getting billed from TVA because of our demand then it helps us save costs and we’re asking you to help us do it. If you’re doing it, it’s going to save you money. If not, it’s going to cost more to provide that energy during peak times during the summer and the winter,” he said.

White said the entire concept is to get customers to a point where they are using more energy during off-peak hours, which will lower the Power Board’s revenues.

“That means our revenues will go down, which is fine. The hope is that if our revenues go down, that means our cost to TVA on the wholesale side is also going to go down,” he said.

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