Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Delmarva Power: To regulate, or not to regulate. That is the question

Not to long ago I was traveling through India, torn emotionally by the realization of what life in a third world country was really like. I returned to find a $1,417 gas and electric bill in my mailbox. How could that be?

I’ve been asking myself that question for quite sometime. Long concerned about my utility bill I turned my thermostat completely off from March until October, when fear of frozen pipes and other ailments forced me to turn it on again – cranking it down to the lowest it could possibly go…a brisk 40 degrees.

Because I leave for work at 7 a.m. and seldom come home until way past 9 p.m., I rarely cook. Instead when at home I bundle up, put extra blankets on my bed and spend most of the time huddled in my room watching television. I thought I had the utility bill problem licked. I was wrong.

Meanwhile I read articles that promise a 59 percent increase in DP&L rates and wonder how anyone who actually spends time in their home – someone who actually comes out of their bedroom now and then; who cooks, takes long hot showers and turns on the lights more two or three hours a day – can possibly afford it.

A closer look at my astronomical bill explained that my utility costs more than doubled during the month of December, even though my usage habits hadn’t changed from my perspective. No Christmas lights on the house and no tree for the first time in more than a decade. I even covered drafty windows in plastic, thinking I’d cut the bill even more. I switched to energy efficient light bulbs. I do admit however, that a couple of days during the month I was truly brazen -- turning the heat up to 60 degrees for a hour so I could quickly shower and dress without fear of pneumonia. Guess I shouldn’t have. I’ve now learned my lesson.

Which brings me back to India. I was struck by so many people living in poverty, with no more means of shelter than a concrete hut or a worn tent pitched on city streets. At night, to keep warm, I’d see groups of people huddled in front of an open fire on the open street.

What do people in this country do when they can’t afford to pay their utility bill? When it’s a choice between heat or food, how can they make the choice? Wilmington, as has most residential communities, long since outlawed building bonfires on your front lawn. Even if it were legal, I can’t imagine that doing such a thing would endear me to my suburban neighbors.

When it comes to food, it’s not like you could invest in a roster and a couple of hens for eggs and food when times get tough. Fruit and vegetables can be grown in a garden, but how many of us could find alternate sources for meat if our lives depended on it?

In modern day civilization, the self-sufficiency of farming, raising or catching your own food, like generating your own heat, aren’t really options. You can’t chose to pay the heating bill, use candles and let the electric go and until you can raise the extra money. With combined gas and electric, you lose one, you lose both.

Interestingly enough, years ago when I hosted a public affairs program on local cable, Delmarva Power was one of the sponsors. Then I thought they were the good guys. How funny. What a difference deregulation, coupled with a decade or so makes.

Four days after my return from India, while I was stewing over what to do next about my bill, a nice yellow envelope came in the mail informing me I was in line for service disconnection. The moral? Never go out of the country and miss paying your bill by a few days when already on a payment plan. I wondered if I should even bother to call. More importantly I wondered how much more I could possibly cut back in order to avoid a future case of utility bill sticker-shock .

Making matters worse, I stumbled across an old electric bill from a time way back when I was a young mom with a busy toddler, a heated fish tank, an Atari game consol hooked to the TV, an electric blanket, two freezers and a electric lawn mower. My monthly utility bill grand total? $55 dollars.

Sigh. Oh, for the good old days.


1adam12 said...

Excellent writing and easy to read.

Bryan Shields said...

$55?! Man.

By the way, I remember that Atari console :)