Last week my natural gas company sent me a letter inviting me to enroll in their dependabill program. Basically, I would pay one flat amount every month no matter what our actual usage was, and at the end of twelve months, there would be no settling the difference if we used more natural gas than we paid for. Then the amount we paid for the next twelve months would be recalculated and if we chose to re-enroll the cycle would repeat itself. Because we recently installed a new furnace that we anticipate will significantly lower our natural gas bill this winter, there is no way I am enrolling in a program based on past usage, but I was curious to what it worked out to. For this program wasn’t the same as what I thought a fixed rate program was – meaning you didn’t settle the difference in what you paid versus what you used at the end of twelve months, but also, you didn’t get back the difference if you used less than what you paid for. And the amount I would pay per month also seemed very suspicious – $158.83. Our natural gas bills in the winter were higher than that, but we also have 3-4 months of bills in the $20/month range in the summer and most of our fall and spring bills are in the $40-$50 range. That number just seemed a bit high for anything close to an average of our usage over the past twelve months.
This particular product is packaged in a pretty slick way as well. In the letter, they offer a $20 credit on your next natural gas bill for signing up. It also bills itself as the surest, most dependable way to budget your gas expenses that is designed specifically to meet our natural gas needs. But it also has a number of interesting statements in the fine print. For example, it guarantees a fixed monthly bill but does not guarantee savings, and should only be purchased by customers who are interested in a fixed monthly bill with no year end true-ups, and are willing to pay a fee for that feature.
Being that I am not willing to pay a fee for anything, I decided to calculate exactly how much of a fee we were talking about here based on our own past usage. I’ve been budgeting and tracking expenses for a little over a year now, so I could easily look up what we’ve paid in natural gas charges over the past year. I did so, and found we’d paid about $1116 in natural gas charges in the past 12 months, which works out to approximately $93/month. Which means that in our case, if our bills are the same over the next 12 months, we’d be paying about $65 more per month (or $780 total!) than our natural gas charges would be if we just paid our actual bill with its seasonal fluctuations.
Yikes. No thanks.