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Howard Ain, Troubleshooter: Beware of utility rates that jump without warning

Updated: Thursday, July 17 2014, 08:14 PM EDT
CINCINNATI (Howard Ain) -- The list of alternative electric and gas providers has many offering rates lower than Duke Energy, but be careful,
                     
The rates are usually fixed only for a set period.  What happens after the introduction period can lead to a big jump in what people pay month to month. 

Larry Dowler from Liberty Township said, "For almost for over a year it varied very little but it was around 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. And then in November of 12 it went to .615 and it stayed that way for over a year."

The Dowlers live in an all-electric house and the electric rate they paid after signing with Cincinnati Bell Energy in 2011 was in line with that offered by Duke Energy. But that changed late last year.

Dowler said, "I didn't really realize it but it went to 0.08 per kilowatt-hour and then the same thing for the January billing."

That higher electric charge meant his utility bills started to soar, "Then it went to $600 for the February bill. I said wait a minute so I started researching it and finding out it went from .0615 to .0899 to .0999 for two months," Dowler said.

He called Cincinnati Bell Energy to complain and learned he'd been switched to a variable rate when the fixed rate, for which he signed up, ended.

Dowler explained, "She said they compared to other companies and they raised their rates on the kilowatt hours to comparable companies. So that hit me very hard."
   
A person’s Duke bill has an area called "price to compare" which tells them how much Duke charges that month for gas and electricity.  Dowler said after checking that rate, he realized he'd been charged $600 more than if he had stayed with Duke Energy.

There are 47 different energy suppliers certified to serve Duke Energy customers.  Many of them offer variable rates so Dowler said he's learned it’s a good idea to carefully check your bill every month to see exactly what you're being charged.

Dowler said, "I talked to a friend at church and said, ‘Do you realize this? Did you check your bill?’  He got his next bill. His was at .0899. His was previously .058."     

A Cincinnati Bell Energy spokeswoman said the high winter rates were driven by an unusual spike in demand because of extremely cold weather.  She said their rates were similar to other energy providers with variable plans.  Since then their rates have come back down.
    
So remember, when signing up for a low fixed starter rate it will likely increase when the deal ends.  Variable rates can jump drastically from month to month so carefully review every utility bill every month.  Check the bill to see what the 'price to compare' rate is and make sure you're not paying more than that.


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