Within minutes of adjournment at Monday’s meeting of the West Nyack Seniors Club I, a line of three people all with their utilities bills had formed at Bill Kemble’s table.
Kemble, of New City, has spent the last five years researching the fluctuating costs of alternate energy suppliers and for the last three has reported his findings back to the club, as well as the other West Nyack Seniors Club group. Now after meetings, others in the group come up to Kemble and ask him to take a look at their bills. Some even call him at home with questions.
“I’m not going to pay their bills,” he said. “I’m just trying to help people.”
For Kemble, his own experience with alternative energy suppliers started about six years ago. After his rate unexpectedly changed, he started doing his own research to look into other suppliers for his gas and energy. Orange & Rockland’s website had a list of about 40 alternative suppliers that could provide the services, so Kemble called every one. As of Monday night, the list on O&R’s site has 63 alternate suppliers in New York.
As Kemble did more research on alternative suppliers, and told others in the seniors groups about them, he was finding more instances of sudden rate changes and harmful fine print. He began reaching out to Rockland County Legislator Ed Day about the issues.
“Bill has reached out to me on a number of occasions and generally it’s not because of something he’s gone through, but it’s something one of you have gone through,” Day said.
On Monday, at the seniors club meeting, Day spoke to a packed room of more than 100 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in West Nyack about alternate energy suppliers.
“There’s no other solutions other than you paying attention,” Day said.
According to O&R’s website, “alternate energy suppliers are unregulated and are often able to offer customers prices that are lower than O&R energy supply prices.” As for why O&R supports alternative energy suppliers, the site says, “At O&R, we don't make a profit on the sale of the actual electricity or natural gas supply that we buy in the competitive energy market and deliver directly to our customers with no markup. So, whether you buy your energy supply from us or from an alternate energy supplier, we still deliver the energy to you safely and reliably. In a sense, we're just like an express mail service.”
There are other benefits when using an alternative energy supplier. Day said using one can cut down on the county energy tax.
“Under New York State tax law, if you purchase an energy portion of your O&R utility bill from a supplier other than O&R, you are exempt from the energy sales tax on the O&R delivery charge portion of your bill,” he said.
“Real money that cuts that energy tax by 60 percent. So if you have a $10 energy tax, it will become around four, so another reason you should take a look at this.”
But people have also faced issues with alternative energy suppliers, and so they turn to the West Nyack Seniors Club’s expert on the topic. Kemble said a neighbor of his had his bill continually double, ending up at 94-cents after starting at seven-cents.
“Bill’s comments were ‘people are getting ripped off,’” Day said. “Yes they are, but legally. They’re being taken advantage of. Legally.”
Day said if people feel like they’re being taken advantage of, the only agency they can contact is the Public Service Commission.
“The whole matter is really a consumer matter,” he said. “It’s something that you as an educated consumer should take advantage of, but but weary of. That’s the best thing I can tell you.”
Part of being an educated consumer, Kemble said, is making sure you read the fine print. Another person who spoke to Kemble told him they stopped the service and were charged a $12.50 penalty for each month left on contract.
The contracts are another area people have had issues with. Day said he has used alternative energy suppliers himself and was offered a six-month or one-year contract and he decided to try it out because the price was lower than O&R’s. He said he made a note to look up his rates around the time the contracts were supposed to end, and he noticed that not only had his rates gone up to about the same as O&R’s, but he found out he was supposed to get a letter from the company 30-60 days before the end of the contract seeing if he wanted to re-up. He read that if nothing is done, a variable rate plan is set each month.
“You get a variable rate plan if you do not do something with that six- or 12-month term, you do not actively engage in taking yourself out of it,” Day said. “The rate you will get is based on company’s evaluation of the market conditions.”
Day added that the word “market” is key to the whole situation, as that is what has been established through the entire situation.
“That whole notion is supposed to drive prices down,” he said. “We’re now getting into a marketing issue with 60 suppliers. The only entity that can take a supplier off of the grid is the Public Service Commission.”