Am I stuck with one electric company?
January 25, 2007 11:58 AM   Subscribe

I need a new electric company. But there seems to be only one really sheisty one here in Daytona, FL. Am I doomed to pay their extortion?

I've had Florida Power and Light (FPL) at my tiny office for almost a year. I've paid them a deposit at the beginning of the deal, and their rates on time for 11 months, but they recently billed me for an additional 200 dollars after a "six month review" of my perfect record. They've told me that I have no choice but to pay this additional "deposit" or my electricity will be shut off, even though I've never even been close to late and they've been drawing my bills directly from my checking account the whole time I've used them. I asked them what grounds they have to demand another deposit from me and why they are accusing a perfect customer of potential theft, but they tell me that it's just business and that I should stop using the word "steal".

In searching for alternatives, I've been told by others that power companies don't overlap service, and that if I'm serviced by FPL, that's the be all end all. I found the website of Progress Energy, which looked like it would do, (I'm just south of where the red meets blue on the east coast) but their very short operator told me the coverage map on their website was wrong. Progress was the only thing close I could find with ze Google.

Is there an alternative to Florida Power and Light in Volusia County, FL, or anywhere else? If not, why? Am I doomed to pay this fee "in case I decide to steal 4-6 months of electricity" to the smirking dogs that are FPL, even if I've already paid a deposit? Is there a way I can cram it down their throats, metaphysically speaking (j/k)?
posted by dozo to Work & Money (23 answers total)
Invest in solar panels or a wind turbine.
posted by BobbyDigital at 12:02 PM on January 25, 2007

umm, ok... my landlord wouldn't be cool with it.
posted by dozo at 12:05 PM on January 25, 2007

posted by muddgirl at 12:12 PM on January 25, 2007

Call the regulators? Usually, there are rules about who they can ask for a deposit and when, at least residentially.
posted by wierdo at 12:13 PM on January 25, 2007

"Invest in solar panels or a wind turbine."



The principle behind the question REALLY isn't about the money. I HAVE 200 dollars to give them, but I think it's outrageous of them to demand it from a perfectly paying customer twice. I am also willing to switch to another company and pay a little more to NOT pay FPL, as they are being jerks.

However, anything that's going to cost 4-10 times the deposit or require me to modify the building or mess with electricity myself is out of the question.
posted by dozo at 12:26 PM on January 25, 2007

Are you on a budget plan? Sounds like you got hit with the yearly reconciliation bill...i.e. they found you used more electricity than was estimated for the budget, and now you have to make-up the difference.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:29 PM on January 25, 2007

Is there an alternative to Florida Power and Light in Volusia County, FL,

Progress Energy operates in West Volusia, but the Daytona Beach area is supplied by FPL as far I know.

And dozo, it's Daytona Beach, not Daytona. Slightly kidding.
posted by LoriFLA at 12:32 PM on January 25, 2007

If you don't get a good answer here, you should start making calls. You will have to be patient to track down the true answer (do you have to pay the deposit?), but it can be done. You could call your city hall (assuming you are in a city). You could call the other company again and ask their opinion about this, and what agency regulates them. Then call that agency. You could call a local tv station. Or your state representative. I don't have a specific answer for you, but in case that answer doesn't come, this is an alternative.
posted by Monday at 12:32 PM on January 25, 2007

No, I'm paying commercial rates. From what I could gather from the heavily accented supervisor (not a dig on accents, just had to have the guy repeat himself many times), they decided the deposit wasn't enough, even though I've been a model customer.
posted by dozo at 12:36 PM on January 25, 2007

The principle behind the question REALLY isn't about the money...I am also willing to switch to another company and pay a little more to NOT pay FPL, as they are being jerks.

However, anything that's going to cost 4-10 times the out of the question

If you want to switch electric companies, then you're going to have to move. Is it or isn't it "about the money"?
posted by muddgirl at 12:42 PM on January 25, 2007

However, if you just want to figure out why this deposit is necessary, follow Monday's advice.
posted by muddgirl at 12:43 PM on January 25, 2007

I didn't want to rub the beach part in at this time of year ;D. Thanks for the info on PE. Wow, thats frustrating.

Hmmm, the state rep and TV station seems a little petulant. Right up my alley... I may have to try that. I get the feeling, though, that I'll get a similar response as from FPL- "It's just the cost of doing business", which is understandable, but not the way FPL has gone about it. Thanks for the answer.
posted by dozo at 12:49 PM on January 25, 2007

I know that I have the option to move. My phone line (Primary Rate ISDN) costs 1000 dollars to change locations. On top of that, the expense of opening new accounts for internet, electric, etc wherever I go and paying more deposits adds to the cost of gas, time spent not doing business, new business cards, etc.

It's about the principle of being taken advantage of. If my only choice is moving or paying a paltry 200 dollars, I will of course pay the 200 dollars. I am looking for an option that doesn't involve paying moving expenses and lost business. If there is not any, which is what I am trying to figure out, I will, again, of course pay the 200 dollars.

Can you explain why you are adamant about moving being my only option other than paying FPL?
posted by dozo at 1:00 PM on January 25, 2007

Moving is not your only other option. I agree with wierdo's suggestion to contact your regulators. This looks like a start. Also try contacting someone higher up in the organization at FPL. If you pay with a check, you can write "under duress" in the comment line.
As a final resort, there is probably a small claims court or the like that you could use, but I will offer you no advice in that arena.
posted by exogenous at 1:10 PM on January 25, 2007

That's not what I said, dozo. It is very rare to find multiple electric companies servicing the same geographic region. Therefore, if you don't want to deal with FPL, you're going to have to move, or go off the grid I suppose.

However, if you want to fight the $200, here's an excellent guide to dealing with customer service of any kind. The first step is calling FPL and figuring out exactly what they've charged you for.

Have you looked at the FPL page which documents commercial deposits? It explains that the typical deposit is equal to two months of average bills, and that it is recalculated every 6 months. This implys that if your energy usage increases, or the price of energy increases, your deposit amount will increase.

The page also explains that you earn 6% interest on the deposit annually. That's pretty good! There are also non-cash options.

I hope this answer was more helpful.
posted by muddgirl at 1:19 PM on January 25, 2007

So I were you, and I wanted to fight this (which you seem to do), I would go and look up my energy bills for the last 6 months, and calculate the average cost per month, and multiply that by two. If (your current deposit + $200) is more than (your average bill x 2), I would call up politely and explain that fact. If (current deposit + $200) is equal to or less than (your average bill x 2), I would call up politely and explain that you are a good customer, never paid late, etc etc, economic hardship and so forth, and see if they'll cut you a deal. If they don't cut you a deal, speak to their manager. If the manager won't cut you a deal, then you need to escalate to "executive service".
posted by muddgirl at 1:27 PM on January 25, 2007

Thank you for the reply. I have looked through that site and it seems as though I'll have to spend some time really poring over their literature.

It is very rare to find multiple electric companies servicing the same geographic region.

This was more my question. Why is this, I wonder? I was hoping that the answer, which makes the most sense to me, would be that there ARE more than one power co. for an area. I ran into the same type of conundrum when I tried to get my PRI here, that BellSouth is the only carrier. All other "carriers" are just people who are renting from BS, and the best deal is obviously from BS themselves.

How is this possible? Are all power companies - indeed, all utilities - in collusion?

I just talked to my land lord, and he revealed that there was a screw up with the electrician when this office was being remodeled. Somehow my office was wired up to another office, and an new electrician was required to fix it. There is a possibility that the history of this office was thrown out of whack in the process. This still doesn't explain why this "six month review" came after 10-11 months.

Thank you for your answer and the link to the cs article, and on preview, the deposit advice.
posted by dozo at 1:42 PM on January 25, 2007

The simplest answer to "Why aren't energy companies competing for my business?" is that utilities are a natural monopoly.

There have been some attempts in recent years to separate the parts of energy distribution that require a monopoly (the transmission and distribution of power) from the parts that can foster competititon (the generation of power and selling power to consumers). The wikipedia article on the electrical power industry has a lot of links to various topics related to this.
posted by muddgirl at 2:16 PM on January 25, 2007

Dozo, you seem very suprised that you don't have more than one electric company to choose from -- have you lived somewhere where you could choose, and if so where?
posted by yohko at 2:36 PM on January 25, 2007

Here in Victoria, Australia, we used to have a single government-run electricity supplier, the SEC, who sold electricity at low cost, employed loads of people, did a good job of installing enough infrastructure to meet projected demand, and did good work in demand management.

The Kennett government broke up the SEC and privatized the bits, on the grounds of "efficiency".

We now have a plethora of energy retailers, all offering different pricing plans, bundling specials and so forth, every single one of which is more expensive (in inflation-adjusted dollars) than the rates the SEC used to charge. We also have power blackouts in summer when our local installed generation capacity can't meet demand and the interstate grid lines get disabled by bushfires.

So yes, we have choice of electricity billers here. But it's a choice I'd rather not have to bother with.
posted by flabdablet at 3:38 PM on January 25, 2007

It is very rare to find multiple electric companies servicing the same geographic region.

This isn't true everywhere, most of Europe has now unbundled the four electricity supply functions (Generation, transmission, distribution and supply (supply in the second sense means the people who buy from generators and sell to consumers)). This means that consumers can buy from a wide range of supply compnaies. The shift in Europe reflects the opening up of national markets as part of the formation of a single european market for energy supply. The US has been much slower to go down the track of deregulation (or reregulation as it should really be known) to produce more open markets.

Whether this opening of markets is actually beneficial is still open to question. The UK experience has been that the privately owend and competitively regulated natural monopolies came down in price as a result while the supposedly competitive functions exhibit some regulatory capture and the market ended up as an oligopoly, action has been taken to correct this but I havent' seen any stats on the results and they're difficult to pull out of the general fuzz of increases in world energy prices. There's some evidence that cnsumers are rubbish at picking out the best supply option for them, I've seen evidence presetned that in some years half the consumers who change supplier change to more expensive companies, presumably as a result of market profile.

Other problems in the system include the fact that new regulating for competition often doesn't take into account the need for security/reliability of supply. That is, there's insufficient profitability in capturing the market for the extreme peaks of demand and so no-one maintains capacity for this occasional use. This may be why flabdablet gets power cuts and might also be a contributing factor for the California debacle a few years ago (though nimbyism and Enron also played their parts).
posted by biffa at 2:58 AM on January 26, 2007

Of course, there are historical reasons why the US is afraid of energy deregulation. Of course, some states are beginning to deregulate power. Texas did so in 2002; however, it has not really begun to affect the larger cities yet, except maybe Dallas?
posted by muddgirl at 7:00 AM on January 26, 2007

Progress Energy (formerly known as Florida Power and not the same company as FPL) is your only choice in Daytona AND you'd have to move. Florida doesn't have overlapping utility coverage.

FPL is upping your deposit to cover X amount of average usage. muddgirl explained why. Somewhere in the original paperwork when you signed up, they did tell you they were going to review your account and possibly do so. Sucks but you're stuck. Pay it or move. PE does the same thing, though at least with PE you've got a chance of getting a tiny amount of interest paid on your deposit once a year.

Business class Roadrunner cable internet is cheaper than ISDN FWIW. Just a thought.
posted by keptwench at 9:49 AM on January 27, 2007

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