MINNEAPOLIS - Many Twin Cities electricity customers got a shock when they opened their monthly bills. The high heat this summer has driven up the cost of residential power.
"It has been extremely hot," said Don Haller, Vice President of Member Services for Connexus Energy. "Here at Connexus, we are about 15 percent higher in energy usage."
Crystal Mannik, Xcel Energy Senior Marketing Business Consultant, agreed. "We know that our customers are challenged right now, keeping up with those higher summer bills."
Some Connexus customers contacted KARE 11, complaining that they were paying much more for power than Xcel customers. In fact, there is a difference and a reason. Currently, Xcel charges an average of $0.09.4 per kilowatt hour. Connexus customers are facing about $.12 per kilowatt hour.
However, the two companies are not the same. Xcel Energy, based in Minneapolis, is an I.O.U., and investor-owned utility, regulated by the Public Utilities Commission. Connexus Energy, with headquarters in Ramsey, is a co-op, owned by its members.
"They have a per kilowatt charge and on top of that they have all these extra line items and charges on their bill. Connexus does not have that," said Haller. "So, our per kilowatt fee or charge is different, fundamentally. You have got to compare apples to apples."
One difference is that Connexus, as a co-op, gives an annual cash back to its members. In November of 2012, it will be $5 million, according to Haller.
Both companies offer simple ways for their customers to cut into the rising bills. Manik suggested hanging clothes out to dry, rather than using a dryer and closing the shades on windows. Haller urged customers to set the thermostat a degree or two higher and avoid going in and out as much as possible. He suggested staying inside instead. However, he commented that people staying inside may use appliances more that also use electricity.
Xcel Energy offers the "Saver's Switch" program. A box is installed, free of charge, near the central air conditioner. The device allows Xcel to automatically turn the air conditioner on and off in 15 minute intervals, saving power. In return, the participating customers receive a 15 percent drop in their monthly bills. Xcel calls days when the on/off system is in use "control days."
"Even with those 90 degree days, we have been able to manage the load in a way that we have not needed to do any control days," said Manik. Xcel said it will give the 15 percent bill break to 408,000 participating residential customers and 17,500 small businesses even though the "Saver's Switch" system was not used.
There are state and federal assistance programs for customers having difficulty paying their soaring monthly electric bills, but they are not offered through Xcel.
"While we do not have bill pay assistance available attached to hot summer months," said Manik, "we do encourage customers that are struggling to pay that monthly bill to give us a call and work out a payment plan."
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