Discover how UCM met a variety of challenges with expertise & determination.
Since 1991, UCM has advocated in many ways for many clients to solve the common problem of utility cost overpayment.
Utility regulations have become so complex and burdensome, billing errors occur more often than not – especially for major utility customers, where the larger the bill, the larger the likelihood of overcharges. The following case histories illustrate in detail how UCM resolved this issue for a wide variety of clients:
Large Grocery Chain
Over 440 short-term rate changes, all approved by PG&E.
UCM was retained by one of the nation’s largest grocery chains to analyze electricity costs at more than 220 stores in Northern and Central California. UCM analyzed 15-minute “interval data” for each location and discovered that the stores would realize savings if electricity service were temporarily provided under rate schedules that used revised “time of use” (TOU) periods. In most cases, UCM’s analysis showed that the new TOU rate structure would be beneficial for only one or two months.
In order to take advantage of this opportunity, UCM had to obtain a waiver from the PG&E requirement that rate changes occur only once every 12 months. In a series of meetings with utility personnel, UCM established the rationale for the waiver, and then worked with PG&E to obtain California Public Utilities Commission approval for the new policy. The CPUC allowed the short-term rate changes to occur, and UCM handled all aspects of implementation, both to and from the new rates – more than 440 rate changes in all.
In the end, UCM’s client reduced electricity costs by more than $460,000 in less than 90 days. These savings were achieved with no capital outlays, no changes in how electricity was used, and no client time. UCM took care of everything, including providing the client with a detailed breakdown of actual savings after the project was complete – a truly winning project in every sense.
UCM's research & scrutiny of interval data leads to a sizeable refund.
UCM was hired as a subcontractor to review the utility bills for a 520-bed hospital that had a 4,200-kilowatt natural gas cogeneration system. The hospital was frustrated that, despite generating more than 90% of the power it needed, it continued to pay more than $1.4 million per year to the local utility for “standby” service, to cover its electricity needs during those periods when the cogeneration system was down because of maintenance, or because of unplanned outages.
UCM researched the utility company’s method for calculating electricity demand for standby customers, which involved complex calculations that took into account the generation output of the cogeneration system, the electricity imported from the utility, and the rated capacity of the system. UCM discovered that these calculations – which were performed for every 15-minute period of every day, more than 35,000 periods per year – were performed manually on large spreadsheets, raising the likelihood of errors in determining the appropriate demand levels.
Sure enough, after scrutinizing the utility company data, UCM discovered that 18 months earlier the utility had estimated demand inappropriately during a period when the electric meter malfunctioned. Because of a demand “ratchet” in the utility’s tariffs, the high demand affected charges for a full year. At first, the utility denied there was any problem with its calculations, but eventually it admitted that it had overcharged the hospital, and paid a refund of $490,000.
Commercial Office Building
UCM secures over $500,000 in refunds & $220,000 in annual ongoing savings.
UCM was retained by the asset manager of a 50-story, 600,000 sq. ft. office building to analyze gas, electricity, water, and sewer expenditures. UCM discovered that sewer charges were too high because they were based on water consumption, even though a significant amount of water evaporated through the building’s cooling towers. UCM worked with the water and sewer provider to quantify the appropriate reduction in sewer fees.
UCM then turned its attention to municipal surcharges and taxes that were being assessed on gas, electricity, and water bills. Based on the city’s municipal code and provisions in the state constitution, UCM determined that the building owner was exempt from the assessments. When UCM brought its findings to the city’s attention, the city refused to correct the error because it was unfamiliar with the legal provisions that supported UCM’s view. However, after several months, the utility approved the exemption, and UCM worked with the building’s utility providers to recover refunds of more than $500,000, and to eliminate the taxes and surcharges going forward to reduce ongoing costs by more than $220,000 per year.
UCM corrects billing errors that had gone unseen for decades.
A major owner and operator of senior communities hired UCM to reduce utility expenditures. The company had tried to work with its utility providers for many years, mostly to no avail, and finally decided to give UCM a chance to show what it could do. Within six months, UCM implemented various gas and electricity billing changes that reduced ongoing costs by more than $200,000 annually.
But UCM didn’t stop there. Some of the largest opportunities involved gas billing errors that resulted in excessive charges because large facilities were incorrectly classified as residential customers, rather than commercial customers. UCM established that the gas utility had violated its regulations and that it knew, or should have known, that the accounts were being overcharged. UCM used email correspondence, various municipal ordinances, and the utility’s tariff language to prove its case. UCM’s argument was so compelling that it was able to negotiate recoveries dating back several years, far beyond the three-year period normally allowed, and its client received refunds totaling more than $1,000,000.
UCM files a formal complaint with the CPUC, leading to $9 million in refunds and savings of $2 million per year.
UCM identified a billing issue that was systematically increasing electricity charges for cotton gins throughout California. After PG&E refused to alter its policy, UCM worked with the ginners’ trade association to bring together a group of 33 ginning companies with more than 70 facilities – virtually the entire industry in the state.
UCM filed a formal complaint at the California Public Utilities Commission on behalf of this group. UCM handled all aspects of the complaint process, including discovery, attendance at hearings, oral argument, witness testimony, cross-examination, and the preparation of numerous briefs explaining the justification for the relief the ginners were seeking, and rebutting the utility’s arguments. The process was delayed for more than a year because of PG&E’s bankruptcy, which raised new issues that UCM had to navigate, but eventually the CPUC ordered the utility to pay more than $9 million in refunds to UCM’s clients, and to reduce their ongoing electricity charges by more than $2 million per year.
UCM cites a 25-year-old regulatory decision to justify cost-reducing rate changes.
UCM analyzed electricity costs for a mid-sized city and identified more than 20 accounts that were being overcharged. In less than four months, UCM had implemented all of the billing changes, reducing the city’s electricity costs by more than $400,000 per year.
Over $100,000 of this total came from two pump stations that were used by the city’s water department. UCM believed the sites qualified for special rate designations offered to certain agricultural and water pumping customers under the local utility’s tariffs. However, the utility disagreed, insisting that incidental electricity use for exhaust fans and circulating pumps disqualified the customer because the incidental use was not for water pumping.
UCM provided the utility with a Public Service Commission decision from 25 years earlier in which regulators established the principle that electricity uses that support a qualifying end use should be treated like that end use. After UCM presented the decision and explained its significance to senior utility personnel, the utility reversed its position and approved the desired rate reductions.