Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Working with customers to Stay Connected

Wisconsin moratorium on shutoffs ends today

We urge customers who are behind on their energy bills to get caught up before the end of the shutoff moratorium. Customers in significant arrears are at risk of disconnection starting April 16.

We launched our Stay Connected campaign earlier than usual because of the extreme winter. Customers have seen their heating bills increase from last year, largely due to a sharp increase in the consumption of natural gas.

If you're having trouble paying your bill, 
contact us as soon as possible 
to stay connected.
We used phone calls, bill inserts and other messaging to alert customers who are behind on their bills.

Unfortunately, scammers have been known to prey on customers during this time of the year. Customers who receive suspicious phone calls or emails should contact us directly to verify their account status.

We offer several options to prevent disconnection:
  • Flexible payment plans. 
  • Energy assistance funds for qualifying customers. 
  • Budget billing to spread energy expenses more evenly over 12 months. 
Customers having problems paying their bills are encouraged to contact us as soon as possible. They can select a payment option and learn more about energy assistance by calling 800-842-4565. Customers also can visit our website to learn more about online payment options.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Safe Digging campaign goes to dogs

You know that face your dog makes when they know they’ve done something wrong? We’re hoping to capture it on camera.

If you’ve ever caught your furry friend digging for a bone -- or anything else -- in the back yard, please share your picture. We’re hoping for a canine cameo in our Safe Digging campaign.

If your pooch makes the cut, the picture will be displayed in our promotional material. Your K-9 friend can help raise awareness about safe digging -- an important safety issue.

With the nice weather finally here, people are eager to do yard work, but any project that involves digging can turn dangerous if an underground utility line is struck. Your dog can help us get the message out: Doggone it! Call Diggers Hotline (811) before you dig.

Cold spring increased natural gas prices, usage and bills

Cold weather that started in the winter months, continued into the spring, causing more natural gas use for home heating -- not just in Wisconsin but many areas of the nation.

The greater use nationwide led to higher natural gas prices on the spot market, where utilities go to buy additional natural gas to meet higher-than-expected demand. Such costs show up on customer bills as PGA, or purchased gas adjustments.

Learn more about PGA and how we keep prices as low as possible

Managing your costs
Here are some options to help manage energy bills:
  • Saving energy. You can use energy more wisely going forward to keep more money available to pay bills and meet other needs. Energy-saving ideas 
  • Switching to budget bill. You can even out your payments and avoid spikes that can occur during cold winters and hot summers. You pay the same each month, with semi-annual adjustments for actual usage. Budget bill information 
  • Setting up a payment plan. You may qualify for a flexible payment plan to help you catch up on your bills. Payment plan information 
Want more information? 
Email or call us anytime at 800-242-9137.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Honored as Tree Line USA utility 16 years in a row

We recently were designated a Tree Line USA Utility for the 16th consecutive year. Sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with the National Association of State Foresters, the designation recognizes efforts to provide dependable and reliable service, while using best-practice vegetation-management techniques.

Tree Line USA recognizes public and private utilities that demonstrate practices that protect and enhance America’s urban forests. The program promotes the dual goals of safe, reliable electric service and abundant, healthy trees across utility service areas.

We achieved the Tree Line USA designation by meeting five program standards. Utilities must follow industry standards for quality tree care; provide annual worker training in best tree-care practices; sponsor a tree-planting and public-education program; maintain a tree-based energy-conservation program; and participate in an Arbor Day celebration.

Visit www.arborday.org/treelineusa for more information.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Beware of scammers as shutoff moratorium ends

April 15 is the end of the winter shutoff moratorium, and scammers have been known to prey on customers during this time of the year. Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in scam activity.

But the good news is that few customers are falling victim. Our efforts to raise awareness about scams are working. Customers have heard our warnings, hung up on the scammers and called us to report the attempts. We thank our customers for reporting this activity as we continue to raise awareness.

   Don't comply with callers asking for energy bill 
payments using a Green Dot prepaid debit card.
One common scam involves the Green Dot prepaid debit card. A caller tells you to go to the store and buy a prepaid debit or credit card. You are told to load the card with a specific amount of money and then provide the card number to the scammer. Do not comply with callers asking for payment with a prepaid debit card.

If you’re behind on payments, avoid falling prey to these scammers and contact us right away so there is no confusion about the status of your account. If you get a call that sounds suspicious, it is. Hang up immediately and call us at 800-242-9137. We can verify the status of your account and determine if the call you received was a scam.

Fox6 News story

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Oak Creek fishing pier opens to public

The fishing pier located near the Oak Creek Expansion opened April 1. The pier extends into Lake Michigan and is accessible on the north side of the discharge channel.

The pier is open during daylight hours through Nov. 15, weather permitting. Although the pier is considered company property, the public also may access the adjacent public beach to the north.

The Oak Creek fishing pier, located near our power plant, is open through Nov. 15.
Map to the fishing pier.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Purchased gas adjustments add to natural gas bills during extreme cold

Customers are taking notice of the purchased gas adjustments (PGA) on their natural gas bills. Bills are higher than normal not only because of greater consumption of natural gas related to the severe and prolonged cold temperatures but also because the cost of natural gas we buy from suppliers has increased.

While the details of the transactions with natural gas suppliers are confidential, our purchases are audited by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to make sure that our natural gas purchases are prudent.

Widespread cold snaps led to unusually high demand for natural gas nationwide which, in turn, led to higher natural gas prices on the spot market. Although we purchase and store natural gas when the cost typically is lower, we depleted much of that supply due to the historically cold winter. We needed to purchase more natural gas on the spot market than in normal winters to meet customer demand.

PGA reflects what we actually pay for natural gas from our suppliers and is the only market adjustment for what we pay versus what we expected to pay at the time the base rate was set. If we can buy gas for less than our forecast, customers see a credit on their bill. If gas costs are higher than we expected, customers see a charge.

Keeping prices as low as possible

Our goal is to reliably supply natural gas at the lowest possible price. We employ several purchasing methods and use financial instruments to obtain the lowest price possible. Two ways to manage natural gas prices are storage and hedging:
  • Storage typically takes place during the summer months when natural gas cost typically is lower. The gas is stored in underground facilities with geological formations that can support redelivery throughout the year but particularly during winter months. We lease storage in Michigan, Iowa and Illinois because Wisconsin does not have natural gas storage formations. 
  • Hedging is the use of financial contracts to reduce the risk of large swings in natural gas commodity prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). Hedging is a financial strategy that uses gas option purchases and futures contracts to cap and lock prices to reduce market swing risks. We currently hedge up to 60 percent of our natural gas supply requirements.
Breakdown of natural gas therm cost

Natural gas is measured in therms. A therm’s cost has three main components, which are indicated on customer bills:
  • Distribution — This charge covers natural gas delivery system operations, including improvements and maintenance of pipes and meters. This charge is set when a new rate order is approved by the PSCW and does not change until a new order is issued. 
  • Base — This charge is what we pay to suppliers and pipelines for natural gas as well as its transportation and storage. We do not keep any of the money collected to cover these costs. This amount does not change until a new rate order is issued.
  • PGA — This charge reflects the difference between the base amount and the actual natural gas cost. This could be a charge or a credit, depending on actual costs. We pass along these costs to customers without any benefit to our company whether a charge or a credit. Our PGA factor is set on the second to last work day each month for the next month’s bills. PGA amounts for customers vary somewhat based on number of billing days and amount of gas consumed.

Background on natural gas supply

Most natural gas in the United States comes from the Gulf of Mexico and Canada. Natural gas is almost 100 percent methane and comes from deep underground. Once out of the ground, natural gas is transported in high-pressure pipelines by pipeline companies. When it arrives at its destination, we distribute it to our customers through underground facilities connected to pipelines.

Supply vs. capacity — Supply is the term used to describe the natural gas commodity. We use competitive bidding to get the lowest possible cost. Because we have contracts with a number of suppliers, we spread our supply risk. Supply contracts can be seasonal or annual to ensure the best natural gas cost and availability on the coldest days. We purchase capacity from a number of interstate pipelines and underground storage owners, primarily under long-term contracts, to obtain capacity at lower costs for extended periods.

Natural gas costs on your bill — Three main elements make up a natural gas bill: supply, capacity and distribution. Supply cost, or the commodity itself, is passed on directly to customers. We do not profit from the supply cost. Capacity is the physical space in the pipe. Supply cost and capacity make up about 63 percent of the rate customers pay. Distribution cost covers the cost for us to provide natural gas service, including the underground distribution network, meters, billing and customer systems as well as operating expenses. This portion makes up about 37 percent of customer rates and is regulated and approved by the PSCW.

PGA (and prices) vary by location

Our parent corporation -- Wisconsin Energy -- has several businesses, including some doing business as We Energies. Wisconsin Electric is one of those businesses, and Wisconsin Gas, which was acquired by Wisconsin Energy in 2000, is another. While every effort is made to take advantage of economies of scale, the tariffs (prices) for the two natural gas utilities remain independent. The two natural gas utilities are Wisconsin Electric Gas Operations and Wisconsin Gas LLC, each serving different geographical areas, each requiring their own pipeline contracts and each having its own natural gas receipt points and, consequently, different costs that distinguish their pricing. These differences extend to separate natural gas purchase portfolios that are reflected in the PGA. The PGA also is blended for the different months covered between a customer’s meter reading (referred to as meter reading cycle). This is why some We Energies customers have a different PGA than others – depending on their meter reading cycle and whether they are in the geographical area served by Wisconsin Electric Gas Operations or the one for Wisconsin Gas LLC.