Cents per Therm

Last month I renegotiated the annual agreement with our natural gas provider. No need to name the company—let’s just say it’s an electric membership corporation in northeast Georgia. 🙂

Natural Gas FlameIn 1997, Governor Zell Miller signed a bill deregulating natural gas in Georgia. Politicians hoped to encourage greater competition among companies and lower prices for consumers. Each household now picks a supplier among a handful of choices.

The companies provide the same product—natural gas is a commodity that does not vary in quality regardless of provider. However, the prices can range greatly.

Consumers must choose between a variable and fixed rate. Variable rates . . . well, they vary! The cost goes up and down based on supply and demand. Fixed rates remain the same for a period of time typically ranging from six months to two years.

Companies charge for natural gas per therm. Don’t worry, I looked it up on the Internet. A therm equals 100,000 British thermal units. So there you go. A therm also provides the energy equivalent of burning 100 cubic feet of natural gas. NOW we’re getting somewhere!

When first faced with this incomprehensible equation, I thought we might need a handful of therms to make it through the winter. However, the gas company doesn’t sell them by the dozen. A nifty little meter outside the house measures the flow of gas.

Last month my gas provider (the aforementioned electric membership corporation in northeast Georgia) sent a reminder that our twelve month contract would soon end. If we wanted to avoid a variable rate, we could renew the contract at $.49 per therm.

It sounded like a really good deal—even better than last year. However, we had received a postcard from another company offering the exact same product for $.34 per therm. I called the current provider to inquire about the difference. The clerk on the other end immediately agreed to match the other offer.

Wait a minute.

I’m a good customer and pay my bills on time. We currently have THREE—count them, THREE—different utilities with the same company (the aforementioned electric membership corporation in northeast Georgia), including electric, gas, and home security monitoring.

Call me naïve, but I assumed the company would offer its current customers the best possible rate from the start. Instead, we haggled over the price like a merchant and buyer in a Middle Eastern marketplace.

I’ve discovered a similar phenomenon with companies providing Internet service, satellite TV, and other utilities. The practice amazes me. The gas station doesn’t bargain over the cost per gallon of unleaded. The grocery store doesn’t haggle over the price of milk. The Bible doesn’t offer an introductory 8% tithe. Yet this is an accepted practice for some industries.

If the officers of the aforementioned electric membership corporation in northeast Georgia happen to read this blog, here’s an idea. Treat your good customers better and offer them the best possible deals. It will make you money in the long run–and save me an annual phone call.

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