Utility companies or other businesses offer customers the option to purchase utility line repair warranties.
This article will help you understand what line warranties are and whether or not they may be a prudent investment. Understanding the difference between the local utility's responsibility for some line repairs and your responsibility as a homeowner may help you decide if utility line insurance is appropriate for your family.
What are line warranties?
A line warranty is designed to cover the cost of repairs to utility lines that may run from, to or inside your home. Line warranty programs are offered either by a utility or an outside company. It is advisable to review your homeowners' policy to determine whether it covers line repairs. Your homeowners' insurance may cover the damage caused by line failures but not replacement of the line itself. If you are considering purchasing a line warranty, here is what you should know:
The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) offers a fact sheet, "The Facts About Utility Line Warranties." This fact sheet is available for download on the OCC website at http://goo.gl/irCS3B or by contacting OCC toll-free at 1-877-PICKOCC (1-877-742-5622).
By Marty Berkowitz
Consumers have come to expect calls from energy marketers or others when they answer the phone. And they can expect to see energy offers and promotions in their mail. If you want to reduce the number of calls or mail solicitations you receive, the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) offers information about preventive measures you can take.
Energy Choice Marketers
Electric and natural gas marketers are provided a list of eligible customers by each of the regulated utilities. Under rules established by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), your electric and natural gas utilities are required to provide certified energy marketers with a list of customers who are eligible for energy choice. This list will include your name, address, and usage information. To prevent the utilities from disclosing this account information to marketers, you can call their customer service telephone number or use the following links to your utility's website:
Your utility will inform you that opting out through their process doesn't guarantee prevention of all calls from marketers. The marketers sometimes obtain your contact information through other means.
The Federal Trade Commission makes available a Do-Not-Call List. Residential telephone customers can avoid receiving unwanted telemarketing calls by placing their home telephone and/or personal cell phone number(s) on the national Do-Not-Call registry. Registering a number is free and your number will stay on the registry until you remove it or change your telephone number, so there is no expiration date. To register your phone number, call 1-888-382-1222 from the telephone number you want protected or visit www.donotcall.gov. You should get fewer telemarketing calls within 31 days of registering your number.
Not all calls are blocked by the national Do-Not-Call registry. The list does not apply to charities, political organizations, political candidates or telephone survey companies. Also, even if you place your number on the registry, companies with whom you've established a business relationship may continue calling for up to 18 months after the last transaction, unless you have expressly asked them not to call.
If, after 31 days, you are receiving unlawful telemarketing calls, you can file a complaint by contacting any of the following agencies:
When filing a complaint, you will need to provide the following information:
You also can file a suit against the telemarketer in small claims court. Individual consumers can seek up to $1,500 in damages per violation. Consumers should realize that there is a risk they can be countersued if a mistake is made. One final option is a suit in federal court.
You can learn more about the Do-Not-Call list and other consumer protection issues by accessing the OCC's website at www.pickocc.org/publications/factsheets-con_protection.shtml
Another way to reduce the amount of mail solicitations is to register for the Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) Mail Preference Service (MPS). The Mail Preference Service is available to companies for the purpose of removing a customer's name and address from their mailing lists.
When you register with the Mail Preference Service, your name and address are placed on a "do-not-mail" list. All Direct Marketing Association members have pledged under DMA standards to match their list of potential customers against the Mail Preference Service list. Individuals who have registered with the Mail Preference Service must be removed from the companies' mailings. According to the Direct Marketing Association, the amount of mail you receive will begin to decrease approximately three months after registering.
You can register by going to the Direct Marketing Association's website at
www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offmailinglist/ and filling out an online form. There is a one-time $5.00 fee for registering online. You also can print the registration form and mail it in for free. Registration is good for five years. Be aware that, if you move, you must register your new address with the Mail Preference Service.
You should be cautioned that registering with the Mail Preference Service will not end all junk mail. You may continue to receive mail from companies you have done business with. Other exceptions may include commercial organizations that do not use the Mail Preference Service, many local merchants, professional and alumni associations, political candidates and mail addressed to "occupant" or "resident."
In addition, the Direct Marketing Association has an Email Preference Service for opting out of unsolicited emails. You can register at
www.dmachoice.org. Registration is free and lasts for six years.
By Chris Verich
Please note that OCC does not endorse any specific product, process, or service discussed.
Programmable thermostats have been around for years as a way to help reduce home heating and cooling costs.
But as smartphones and tablets become ever more popular, thermostats are becoming available that can be operated remotely through the Internet. These thermostats allow utility customers to turn up or turn down the temperature in their homes and be alerted to extreme temperatures there from wherever they have an Internet connection.
The thermostats work by using the Wi-Fi signal in a home to connect to the Internet. This Internet connection allows the user to control the thermostat with smartphones, tablets, and other Internet-capable devices.
Considering that heating and cooling account for about half of the total energy bill for a typical American household, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, customers are finding that remote thermostats can provide energy savings as well as convenience.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates a programmable thermostat can cut energy use by 20 to 30 percent, which can be roughly $200 a year. Along with that, some utilities offer rebate programs.
In an age where just about anything in the home can be controlled remotely, such as lights, TVs and even washing machines, thermostats with a remote control feature fit the times.
Remote control thermostats can be used for the usual programming, such as for a seven-day schedule. But the technology is there to provide even more ways to trim energy bills.
So-called learning models can make it easier to manage your home's temperature. As you adjust the thermostat over time, the smart device becomes accustomed to your schedule. It can stop heating or cooling an empty apartment if you forget to do so.
Some models, such as from Honeywell and Nest, have the ability to determine how long it takes to cool or heat your home based on variables such as weather and the temperature in your home. These devices retail for about $249.
Nest's Airwave technology can turn off an air conditioner's compressor and leave just the furnace fan to run a few minutes before reaching the home's target temperature. According to Nest, compressor coils can produce cold air for 5-10 minutes after the compressor is shut down. The compressor uses a lot of power while the fan uses very little.
Whether or not a smart thermostat is a smart investment compared to a traditional programmable thermostat depends on your habits and cravings for technology.
The same savings can be achieved using a regular programmable thermostat without spending more for the remote control feature. But if you are the forgetful type who leaves the air conditioner or furnace running all day while you are out, a smart thermostat can help bring a smaller energy bill to your mailbox.
By Scott Gerfen
Those considering the purchase of an electric-powered vehicle could be making an economic decision for financial savings in addition to what might be an environmental choice. During the past decade, there has been an increasing demand not only for more fuel-efficient vehicles that run on traditional gasoline, but also for vehicles that are powered by electricity.
Types of electric cars
Four types of vehicles on the market are powered, at least in part, by electricity:
What does this mean for your
home electric bill?
Reducing home energy usage is important to many Ohioans for saving money. Naturally, one might ask what impact a plug-in electric vehicle has on household electric bills. Charging a plug-in vehicle at home will undoubtedly increase electric usage, which would in turn increase your monthly electric bill. This cost may be offset by the decrease in gasoline purchased to operate the vehicle(s).
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it costs approximately $1 for all-electric vehicles to travel the same distance as a similar-sized car would travel on a gallon of gasoline. This adds up to a savings of more than $2 a gallon or $1,000 a year in gasoline costs. The next generation of electric vehicles is expected to bring even bigger savings.
Electric vehicle owners concerned about their monthly electric bill can take advantage of alternative ways to charge their vehicles. One option is to install solar panels to supply electricity to your home. Of course, there are up-front costs associated with solar power systems (including the purchase and installation), and customers would want to calculate payback periods. The amount of sunlight to which the home is exposed, available tax credits and rebates, and the amount you currently pay for electricity all impact the time it takes for the system to generate net savings.
Second, Ohioans may use one of more than 80 electric charging stations installed throughout the state. The cost to charge your electric car varies by location. To locate a charging station near you visit http://energy.gov/maps/alternative-fueling-station-locator.
If you plan to purchase a vehicle that is powered by your home's electricity and you are concerned about how that will impact your electricity bill, there are steps you can take to lower your overall usage. The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) has several publications available on energy efficiency and reducing use of "vampire" power. You can receive a copy of the publications by visiting the OCC online at www.pickocc.org/publications/factsheets-smart_energy.shtml or calling 1-877-PICKOCC
By Erin Biehl
Results from local ballot issues in May could bring new choices to some Ohio utility consumers. Voters in several communities decided to give their local government permission to create electric and natural gas aggregation program(s) for their community.
Aggregation is the process by which a local government uses the buying power of many customers to purchase electricity or natural gas on their behalf. While savings are not necessarily guaranteed, many communities are able to obtain favorable prices from energy suppliers to offer discounted energy rates to their residents.
Townships and village officials can now take the next steps of meeting with energy suppliers and comparing offers to find the best rates for residents. Members of these communities will have a choice of whether or not to participate in any aggregation program that their local officials create.
The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel encourages residents in these communities to learn more about aggregation. Visit www.pickocc.org/aggregation/ for helpful fact sheets and other information about community aggregation.
By Erin Biehl
For more than a century, Ohio's utility customers have been protected by ratemaking laws that limit utilities to charging for the costs of providing current utility service. For example, the cost of utility facilities cannot be collected from customers unless the facilities are "used and useful" for providing current utility service.
In June 2012, Duke Energy asked the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) for permission to charge its 420,000 customers $63 million to clean up two properties in the Cincinnati area. The land was polluted by Duke's corporate predecessors in a long-outdated process (dating from the 1800s) to manufacture natural gas by burning coal and oil.
If the PUCO approves the charges, a typical residential customer would pay about $37.65 each year for three years, for a total of about $113. That might not be the final bill, as Duke expects more clean-up costs in the future.
In January, the PUCO Staff recommended to the PUCO Commissioners that they should deny all but about $6 million of Duke's $63 million request. The PUCO Staff's recommendation was based on the "used and useful" standard in the current law. The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) recommended that Duke's request should be limited to collecting between zero and $8 million. As of the time this article was written, Duke's request is awaiting a decision by the PUCO.
After the PUCO Staff made its recommendation to reject about 90% of the amount Duke wants to charge to customers, Duke and other natural gas utilities asked the Ohio General Assembly to change the law that limits what utilities can collect from customers.
In June, the nine-member OCC Governing Board (that is appointed by the Ohio Attorney General) adopted a resolution opposing the utilities' request to change the century-old law that protects consumers. The OCC Board resolved that it "opposes efforts to weaken … standards designed to fairly balance the interests of consumers and utilities." Other customer groups also have opposed the utilities' efforts to change the law that protects customers' utility bills.
By Scott Gerfen
Representatives from OCC can speak to your group about a variety of utility issues, including consumer protections, payment assistance, electric and natural gas choice and more!
For a complete list of topics, visit: www.pickocc.org/education/speaker.shtml
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