In celebration (!) of my electricity bill yesterday, I thought I'd write my opinion of it. First of all, since I'm a (social) geek and obsessed with most things computer- and Internet-related, electricity is a massive part of my life, and I'm sure I'm not alone there!
Electricity powers a lot of other things in my home, though I have a gas cooker and - I think - gas central heating. So a couple of weeks ago when it was particularly stormy and we had a power cut around midnight, I did miss electricity a LOT. This made me realise how dependent we all are on it. Or maybe it was because I was sitting in the dark with my housemate...with about 3 Halloween pumpkin shaped tealights, and a battery operated light ghost and pumpkin. I really must buy a torch!
Anyway, it has to be said that my main concern was whether there would be a surge of some kind, destroying the TV and computers (must get more surge-proof adaptors as well!), and my second biggest concern was how long we'd be without electricity for. My housemate was more excited than anything else, and immediately started planning how we'd live and survive in such conditions on a long-term basis (despite the fact that there wasn't that long to go until daylight!). So I guess in a way it might be quite liberating for short periods, and of course with shortages/restrictions from wars in the past and unreliable blackouts even today, we should be prepared for the worst and not find even a few hours with electricity strange!
My electricity company is EDF, and I find they have a pretty reasonable service (although I don't pay by direct debit any more after they whacked my monthly payment up for no reason and insisted I be 'in credit' with them to the tune of an - accumulating - £50 a month which I didn't use - last I checked, they weren't a bank). But their prices are good - my last electricity bill, for a three bedroomed house for three months, was around £75. Not bad considering the amount of electrical appliances we use!
Unfortunately, pylons and the like are a big eyesore, but a necessary one. Who knows, use of electricity might improve to the extent where it requires minimal effort to use and maintain in the future anyway.
Overall, electricity is an essential to me. I'd prefer to go without running water than I would the Internet, and as crazy as that might seem, it's true!
Electricity is something the world could not live without. Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if electricity didnt exist, or we didnt have the resources to run it. I couldnt imagine living like that. We use electricy for everything, running computers, lights, transport, and everything else that we rely on in our lives. That is why we need to reconsider our actions regarding fossil fuels before we run out of them, and it will happen and if research is correct, within the new few hundred years if not less.
Electricity is spread throughout this country through the national grid, which has power station all over the place, and distrubtes power to every house that pays their bills, and even if not, there is a connection. I know that I couldnt live without it, so I try my best to save as much of it as possible. I never leave lights on in a room we are not using.
When the time comes, I am sure there will be something we can do, but in the current situation, we are looking at a doomed future.
Electrickery. It seems like it should be such a simple experience - you turn the light on, and there you go. But, especially since privatisation, it can be quite a complex business. Having worked in the industry, here are some things you should know.
Checking your meter regularly is the single way you can make life easier for you in electric terms. While meter-readers will be sent out regularly, often they are sent out at times when normal people are working which can result in estimated bills. You may think this is not your problem, but when you get a bill for a couple of thousand pounds because your account has been chronically under-estimated for a while... suddenly it is.
Take a reading at least once a quarter and call it in, or log it online - most companies now offer that facility. If your company has a price change, check it again. This is because when they work out your bill they will average it between readings. So, if your usage goes down - either intentionally or just due to summer - after prices go up, you may end up paying more than you need to at the higher price.
It's worth also checking it every now and then for your own sake. Occasionally an appliance, unbeknownst to you, will go faulty and just start EATING electricity. Not only is this expensive but it's a fire hazard. Check your meter regularly, and if you see a sudden spike in units try to work out why.
As the TV keeps telling us, prices are changing all the time. If you've been with your supplier a good while, it's worth considering a look around. Usually I would suggest starting with uswitch and seeing what they suggest.
Electricity is an area where what's cheapest for your friend/gran/aunt isn't neccesarily cheaper for you. Firstly, prices vary a good deal by area - the cheapest supplier in London will not be the same as the cheapest in Somerset. Other than that however, your usage will take a difference here. For instance, my last supplier (Southern) offered very cheap units but had a daily standing charge. Because my usage is extremely low, this was not the best deal for me, but for someone with heavier usage it would have been excellent.
IN NO EVENT SIGN UP WITH A DOOR TO DOOR SELLER. It doesn't matter the company, it doesn't matter what he offers you. Smile, take the details, then go online. I believe ALL utility companies are currently offering internet deals cheaper than you can get door to door.
Tricky one this. A lot of places will now offer to hold prices for you for a certain amount of months or years.
What they don't mention is that the price per unit that you start on will usually be higher than on their regular rate at that time. There may also be termination charges if you wish to switch companies before the price-fixing date is past. Check, ask questions, then work out the best deal for you.
Again, the TV has been very loud on this one. Prepayment meters are indeed usually more expensive than a regular meter.
Most companies will charge to take them out if you have been with them for less than a year. So, if you are switching supplier, call your current supplier FIRST and ask if they can switch you to normal supply, and then switch companies once that's done.
If you're moving house, always check to see if there is a prepayment meter in your new house. If there is, ask the current ownerif he can arrange to have if changed before you move in. If he can't, either because he has debt on it or because he hasn't himself been with his supplier for a year you may wish to find out how much a meter change would be and negotiate that into the cost of the house.
Ever changed supplier because your current supplier's meter readers are unreliable, or you get a lot of electricity cuts? I have some bad news for you. It doesn't matter which supplier you're with - meter readers and the "backbone" of the network are arranged by area, and the companies contract them out. So, even if your meter reader works for British Gas, if you switch to Southern they will pay British Gas to send the same person around.
Another important point - electricity companies have the right and obligation to check your meter every now and then - I believe it's once every two years. This is partly to ensure the customer isn't lying when he gives readings, but also partly to ensure the meter isn't about to burst into flames or held together with duct tape. If they send you a letter asking you to arrange an appointment, do so, even if you have to take a half-day off work. I know it's frustrating, but it is a legal obligation, and they can and will get a warrant if they have to.
As I said, handling electric companies can be a tricky business. Hopefully these hints and tips will help a bit.
On Friday last week I did something which made me feel fantastic. Which, to be fair, is still making me feel fantastic. Can I tell you what I did? I don't think you'll guess - it wasn't a haircut or a full body massage or even a tub of double chocolate fudge ice-cream.
It was something else.
Something Great and Good.
I switched my electricity supplier.
I know, I know, you're thinking WHAT???? But let me explain...
Since moving to my lovely little house four years ago I've been using Npower's JUICE - which was the greenest regional supplier I could find at the time I moved here. I got into lots of debates about it at the time, which I won't go into here, but I felt, and still feel, that it's important to me to put my money where my mouth is with crucial environmental issues. As with organic, fairtrade, green energy - the way our world works is that it's always going to centre around money. You know? Consumerism. Boy, don't you just love that word!
Anyway, I digress. So I was using JUICE, and after a few years, became vagely aware that they probably were never the best and there really must be something better out there, greener, better for the planet and all that jazz, but had no idea where to start in looking for an alternative.
So last Friday I was looking around the internet, as you do, and somehow landed up on
How I got there, I cannot tell, perhaps it was divine intervention, perhaps some magical being led me there - perhaps I'd been there in a former life or another dimension....who can tell! All I know is what I read made me pick up the phone, dial a freephone number, talk to a nice lady and switch my electricity. Just like that.
So, Ecotricity - they use wind power, they supply big businesses and residential folks alike - some of their big clients include The Co-operative Bank, The Body Shop, The World Wildlife Fund, and The Soil Association - and get this: they invest a lot of money into producing renewable energy.
This year alone they have spent over £7 million on investment into wind energy. That's a lot of wind!
So why does it matter? Well unless you've had your head under the bed with the fluff and the dust for the last couple of decades, you'll know that we're rolling our planet into the universal dustbin at a rate of knotts, and if we don't put the brakes on, we're going to be very sunburnt, living on the tops of mountains (because everywhere else is flooding, Noah's Ark Stylee) and turning our lovely green land into either a desert or a tropical not-so-paradise. Scientists the world over are chorusing that if we don't take action NOW (that's scientist code for LAST YEAR!!!) we are looking at temeratures rising, sea levels rising, floods, drought, distorted seasons, confused wildlife and lots and lots of freakish weather. And that's not good.
Burning fossil fuels is the biggest cause of climate change in the UK - a massive 30% of our carbon dioxide emmissions comes from burning fossil fuels to light up our homes and keep our fridges frosty.
The climate is changing, and it shouldn't be. And it's changing because of human activity. That's really the bottom line. We've created this problem and we all have the power to change the course of our planet's future.
And you know what? It's easier than you might think.
Switching your electricity supplier to one which is greener is one way of changing the world, and I can tell you it feels bloody great!!!
So how does it work? Well, I made a call on:
0800 0326 100
I spoke to a lovely lady who offered me either £35.00 off my first year's bill (because I have a bank account with The Co-Operative Bank), or a year's free supply of The Ecologist Magazine. I opted for the latter. I like a good read!
I gave her my individual electricity number which was on my bill, and the nice lady arranged for a welcome pack to be sent to me. It came this morning with lots of reading material, a direct debit mandate (in case I want to pay that way), a meter reading card which I send back to them so they can inform my old supplier and generate a final bill, and a groovy ECO window sticker so I can tell The Whole Wide World I'm a GREENIE!!!!!
So I guess you're wondering what's the catch? Well I am here to say there isn't one. No standing charge. They will match the price of my regional electricity company, so it won't be more expensive. It's all just great. But you know what it was that swayed me? I'll tell you.
In 2005, nPower, bless their cotton socks for trying, spent £14.31 per customer that year investing in green energy. In the same year, Ecotricity spent £117.99 per customer. (From the Which? Green 2005 League Table)
That's a pretty big difference.
"Switching takes about 5 minutes but it's the biggest single step you can take to reduce your emissions and protect the environment"
A quote from Ecotricity's website.
To conclude, I would say go for it. It's not going to cost you more money and imagine if just 10 people who read this switched, and those ten people told ten more people. Why I do believe we could turn the whole world green. Now wouldn't that make all the trees and birds and frogs and flowers happy?????
Can anybody enlighten me as to how the market deregulation of gas and electricity is actually saving consumers money? As an ex utility company employee, I remember the days when you had to get your gas from the gas board (BritishGas (branded Scottish Gas north of the border) and your electricity from your the local electricity board for your region: originally Eastern Electricity Board (Eastern Electric), East Midlands Electricity Board (Powergen), London Electricity Board (London Electricity), Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board (Manweb), Midlands Electricity Board (MEB), Northern Electricity Board (Northern Electric), North West Electricity Board (Norweb), South East Electricity Board (SEEBOARD), Southern Electricity Board (Southern Electric), South Wales Electricity Board (SWALEC), South West Electricity Board (SWEB), Yorkshire Electricity Board (YEB), North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board (Scottish Hydro) or South of Scotland Electricity Board (ScottishPower). TXU took over Eastern Electric and Norweb to become TXU Energi, ScottishPower took over Manweb and are now ScottishPower Manweb, MEB became nPower who then took over Northern Electric and Yorkshire Electricity and are now nPower Midlands, nPower Northern and nPower Yorkshire respectively, Southern Electric and Scottish Hydro merged to become Scottish & Southern Energy and EDF - a French company (Electricite de France) - took over London Electricity and SEEBOARD. Then Powergen took over TXU Energi, Scottish & Southern Energy took over SWALEC and EDF took over SWEB. So we have gone from having 15 main market players (14 regional electricity supply companies (the old electricity boards) and 1 national gas supply company to having only 6 main players (other than the smaller new entrants to the market) in the gas and electricity supply market which are: * Centrica (branded as British Gas & Scottish Gas) * Powergen * EDF (branded as London Energy, Seeboard E
nergy & SWEB Energy) * nPower (branded as nPower Midlands, nPower Northern & nPower Yorkshire) * Scottish & Southern (branded as Southern Electric, Scottish Hydro & SWALEC) * Scottish Power (branded as ScottishPower and ScottishPower Manweb) How can this be deemed to be competitive, value for money and a greater choice for the consumer? Fair enough if there were still 15 large companies (plus all the various smaller entrants to the market) competing for your custom - experience tells me that the service offered by all of the above mentioned companies varies from absolutely appalling to outstandingly excellent depending upon the manner in which your query and/or complaint is presented and the willingness to help of the company employee with whom you end up dealing with - at least there would be a minimum of 15 different pricing strategies to choose from, but a situation where there are now only a few dominant market players can, in no way, be good news for the consumer. The above company brands refer to energy supply (companies that actually bill for gas and electricity). Electricity distribution is a similarly (un)competitive market - the old regional electricity boards were responsible for generation, transmission, distribution and supply within their respective areas. Part of OFGEM's requirements for the ongoing deregulation of energy supply is that generation, transmission & distribution activities now require to branded as separate entities from supply activities, even if, ultimately, they are part of the same company. So now we have a situation where 24Seven took over responsibility for the former Eastern Electricity and London Electricity supply areas, East Midlands Electricity were responsible for the East Midlands area distribution network, the MEB supply distribution area became GPU Power and then Aquila Networks, Northern Electric and Yorkshire Electric distribution areas became NEDL (Northern Electric Distribut
ion) and YEDL (Yorkshire Electric Distribution), Norweb's distribution area became United Utilities, SEEBOARD distribution became SEEBOARD PowerCare, Southern Electric and Hydro Electric distribution areas became Scottish & Southern Energy Distribution, the SWEB and SWALEC distribution areas became Western Power and the ScottishPower and Manweb distribution areas became SP Power Systems. Then EDF Energy then became responsible for 24Seven and then took over SEEBOARD PowerCare. Electricity distribution now consists of 8 main players, as opposed to 14 originally. The purpose of deregulation of gas and electricity markets is (allegedly) to give consumers more choice and to make it more transparent which companies are responsible for all of the above mentioned activities, but, as far as I can see, consumers are only being taken for a ride. Regardless of the endless variety of logos available at the top of your bill, there is ultimately only very few different pricing strategies available; not to mention the cost difficulties encountered in actually contacting your supplier of choice (despite the various communication methods available (phone, fax, e-mail, website, text, etc.) Maybe I'm just an old cynic, but the way things are going we'll soon end up with only or two or three dominant market players (worst case scenario - only one, so we're back to square one (effectively) - only one company to choose from for a particular service. So, what exactly what is the point of deregulation?
I owe no allegiance to any company that simply administrates. I had in the beginning electric from Yorkshire Electric, gas from British Gas, and that was that. I paid by direct debit each month a fixed amount and settled either way at the year end. They were both denied their monopoly status and as we all know, had to compete for business with others. Soon I had ovatures from all and sundry promising cheaper supply. I chose British Gas to supply both because they were to be cheaper and I would be given a free voucher to spend. Yes, my bills were cheaper and to me that was what mattered, what allegiance did I have to Y. Electric? after all, they are only wanting my money, nothing more than that. After a while, I was approached by Powegen offering even cheaper power still, plus another free voucher. How could I refuse? I didn't and they proved to be true to their word, yes, even cheaper. After all, what allegiance did I owe to British Gas. A few month ago I was approached yet again by another provider. This time Virgin Power. Yes, you guessed. They offered yet cheaper power than Powergen AND, wait for it, YES, a free voucher to spend. What allegiance did I have to Powergen anyway? I signed up and expect to cut my bill down yet again. As far as I am concerned, they are wanting my money and I will give it to those who want the least. Makes sense to me. The obvious outcome is this. I reckon that by the year 2003, they will be paying me for letting them supply power to my house and when that happens, I will use the provider that pays me most. Serious though, I do not feel that I owe anything in loyalty to service providers and I realy have saved by switching around. Try it, what have you to loose? Think of what you have to gain.
A few years ago I used to dread, I mean absolutely dread that sound of the electricity bill droping through the letter box. What has changed? We got a meter. Maybe it is to cut their bills or that this town is a bit out of their way and they would rather not send people out to read meters and find that half wont open the door to them or fill in the forms and then moan that it is too high!! We were all persuaded to change and have meters put in. No not those old fashioned 50p ones but key meters. What happens when you have your meter is that you have a key that you keep in the meter. You go to the local shop when you want money on the key and they pop it in this machine with the amount on it. A bit similar in a way to a phone swipe card but its in the shape of a key. When you get home you put the key in your meter and you have that much of electricity to use. i.e. you pay before you use. You may ask what if it runs out and you forget. Well you have emergency £5 worth so you use that and when you next pay on your key it subtracts it when you put the key in. The good thing about this is that you know exactly what electricity you are using and you never have a bill as you pay for it as and when you need it. You can put whatever amount you want or can afford at the time. When we first had the key we realised what a lot of electric we were wasting. We had an emersion heater. When we had it installed we were told that it is cheaper to keep it on instead of turning it off when it reached its total temperature. Wrong!! We have since found out when it gets to the temperature turn it off. You dont loose a thing and gain quite a sum of electricity. Yes bills for electricity are a thing of the past around here and I havent heard anyone complain about it.
What do the electricity boards actually do for their money? I know that generating the stuff must cost a pretty packet, but they certainly know how to coin it in elsewhere. We have recently started a lot of renovation work on the house, and part of this required the removal of a small wall, upon which the meter was mounted. I contacted an electrician who informed me that only the electricity board themselves were allowed to touch the meter. I rang their helpline, having to explain to a succession of 6 different people my requirements before getting the connections department. The operator was quite rude, telling me I didn't need to tell her my requirements, as they would send me a leaflet. No, she didn't want my name, just my customer number and postcode. Upon receipt of the documentation, and deciphering it - it was incredibly misleading - I was horrified to find the price list for what they were prepared to do. We had 2 options: 1) Move the meter outside. In order to make it more convenient for them to read my meter, I would have to excavate my own path, buy my own meter box, and have it installed to their specifications, and have the internal electrics rerouted by a private electrician. This would cost approximately £600. The electricity board would then turn up and attach the electricity, but not to the fuse box, my contractor would have to do that. Electricity board standard charge £400. Four hundred quid for moving a wire, and filling a hole up. There was no way I was going to pay that. 2) This is the option we went for, and I am still disgusted. We had to get an electrician to do all the rewiring, and then wait 3 weeks for them to turn up and spend 5 minutes (5 bloody minutes) undoing 4 screws and fastening them back on again 18 inches along the wall. I had then to get my electrician back in to reconnect me to the mains. £200 to the electricity board for 5 mins, £50 to the electrician
for 90 minutes. How they dare charge such exorbitant amounts for such a short service is beyond me. Mind you, along with the Water Works, they still do have the Monopoly.
Or has my power supply tripped again? I have no electricity, and I am unable to find anyone who cares very much. A little poetic licence. Obviously, I have electricity at the moment, because the coal-fired PC has yet to be invented. Likewise the hamster-wheel-powered dynamo version, though I have given it much thought. I hesitate to develop the idea simply because my Jack Russell views hamsters in much the same way as I view roast beef. However, (rather cutely, I thought) to the meat of this opinion. In the run up to Christmas, I had seven power cuts in a fortnight. Some were brief, granted, but others were tediously long. Long enough to seriously interfere with my eating habits. And worst of all, some happened during the night, throwing off the radio alarm. And as other late-night opinion writers will appreciate, having no morning alarm is a mite hazardous. So what do I do first? I look out of the window to assess the extent of the problem. I am what you may describe as remote. Nearest neighbour quarter of a mile away. But I have the advantage of being on top of a hill, so I can see lights, not only at the various neighbours’, but at the nearest three villages, and from upstairs the nearest two towns. So I can safely say that I can gauge the severity of the fault before Scottish and Southern Energy plc’s fault finding computer has whirred its lumbering gubbins into a gear above lethargy. I’m ashamed to say that if any of the villages is out, I don’t even bother to pick up the phone. If that sounds mean-spirited or socially irresponsible, I apologise. But past experience has shown this to be such a fraught, traumatic and long-winded exercise, that I ask to be forgiven for letting someone else do it now and again. Now for some history, or call it nostalgia if you will. When S & S E was The North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board – pre-privatisation, of course, but really not so long
ago – it was a very human, and very contactable organisation. If I had a power cut, I phoned the local depot. The then-equivalent of a call centre was Bill. Bill was the local engineer, and in stormy weather, Bill could be found in his office at any time of day or night, with his flask and sandwiches, a phone, and a prehistoric radio apparatus with which to keep tabs on his linesmen. The conversation would go like this. “Bill, I’m off again.” “Aye, there’s a swan flown into the line just down the brae from Upper Balquindachy. Wullie and Jock are oot there jist noo. If it’s nae back on in ten minutes, phone me back.” I never had to phone Bill back. Now we have centralisation, the curse of civilisation as we know it. The disembodied voice which eventually answers after the queuing and the muzack, has slightly less knowledge of geography than I have of neuro-surgery. I will confine myself to one example, lest this turn into a novel. First call. “I think I have located a fault in your area, sir. There is damage to a transformer in Elgin.” If I got in the car now, and put my foot on the floor, it would take me an hour and a half to get to Elgin. “I have nothing logged closer to you. Can you call back in ten minutes?” So I can only conclude that if the fault is not already logged on the system, I’m making it up. Second call, ten minutes later. Different disembodied voice. “Can I take your postcode?” Now we’re getting somewhere. Long pause. “According to our records that postcode is an unoccupied property.” Now I’m a squatter. I remained calm, and asked for the address associated with the postcode. I could confirm that the address was a derelict house nearly half a mile away. There followed a discussion o
n postcodes and updates and databases and addresses. I began to feel we were straying from the point. The point being, that I was in the dark and my tatties had gone off the boil. I made that point, politely, and the disembodied voice got a little huffy. “I have no fault logged in that area, sir. Can you call back in half an hour?” I seethed in the dark, as my stomach began to rumble. Then, miraculously, twenty-five minutes later, there was light! The tatties spluttered into life. I couldn’t resist. I phoned again, and insisted on speaking to the one I’d spoken to before – not too easy, as they won’t give their names. But when I recognised the disembodied voice, I asked if their was any progress on the fault I had reported. “Sorry about the delay, sir. Our system has just logged a fault at the Belfatton transformer. I would expect you to be reconnected in about half an hour.” I acknowledge that I have many faults. And I can be a smug bu**er at times. But I derived immense satisfaction from telling the disembodied voice that the fault was repaired five minutes ago. “Just thought I’d better keep you up to date.” (Purely in the interests of public service, of course.) Does Aspen have a point to make, or is he just indulging in anecdotal rambling – again? My point is this. Service is provided by people. Computers and information systems are tools at the disposal of people. They do not replace people, and they certainly do not replace people’s local knowledge. This headlong rush to cost-effective centralisation by now-privatised ex-Public Utilities does no favours for the consumer. The deregulating of these services may in the longer term help to redress this situation, as customers vote with their feet. But the post-privatisation headlong rush to profit-making is a very short-term vision. And until a longer-term
view is taken, the consumer will continue to suffer. And may I add, slightly tongue in cheek, that the fact that my Scottish Hydro Electric help centre is now in Basingstoke, does little to pacify me.
De regulation of the supply of electricity was supposed to bring savings to every consumer. Free to change to whatever supplier you wished, as often as you liked to continually bring pressure on prices. That was the aim but it has not worked as well. There is now an army of door to door salesmen each of them assuring you that their product is the cheapest on the market. Many of them I've come across are badly trained,ill informed and purely commission driven. I've changed a couple of times and have noticed no real saving on my electricity bill, the gas has come down by about £4 a month though. My advice to anyone is to consider changing once they've checked one of the price comparison checks on the internet. Simply put in your area, the amount you are paying and the payment type. It will then give you the cheapest quotes, without the hard sell.
Have you guess it yet? The answer is our old enemy...Bill. What annoys me about bills is that they all come at the same time wanting payment at the same time and its always at the time when your fridge has packed up and needs replacing, your huge family has birthdays in the next week, the kids schools want money for the latest excursion, and - if you are self-employed, its one of the quietest times of the year. But what really annoys me are the service charges. So far this week I have received a bill a day. Telewest want a £7.66 service charge, British Gas want £14.60 and London Electricity want £11.98. Add to that your VAT and what have you got - the sum that would pay a whole bill by itself. These companies make enough money - so why do they need to charge us for the simple little things like gas and electric? So I have ticked the "recommend to a friend" box for the little fact that we need these things but I don't recommend the companies keep charging us. Oh well, I wonder what tomorrows post will bring.