3. Budget billing can help soften impact of energy cost swings

Opening utility bills during the winter and summer can be alarming. Many consumers are finding that out right now. The fluctuations in payments can throw off any budget, especially if you owe more than expected.<br>
<br>
If you want consistency during uncertain times, consider plans that spread out heat and electricity costs into even monthly payments.<br>
<br>
Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., which serves 1.2 million business and residential electricity customers and 630,000 natural gas customers in Central Maryland, offers budget billing.<br>
<br>
About 300,000 BGE customers participate in budget billing. There is no charge to sign up.<br>
<br>
The utility says it reviews budget billing accounts periodically so there isn't a large deficit or overpayment building up. If an adjustment is required, customers are notified a month before the change.<br>
<br>
BGE pays 6 percent simple interest on any credit balance you have.<br>
<br>
Theresa V. Czarski, deputy people's counsel, says a budget billing plan can be a good option for consumers who like to keep track of their monthly expenses.<br>
<br>
"People need to be aware ... that it gets recalculated based on your usage, and so your budget billing for a period of months will be the same, but it could be recalculated. It could go up or down," Czarski said.<br>
<br>
Other utilities, such as Pepco and Allegheny Power, provide similar payment plans for their customers.<br>
<br>
Pepco, which serves 520,000 electricity customers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, saw a slight uptick in the number of customers in its averaged-payment plan last year to 37,169, from 36,514 in 2007, according to spokesman Clay Anderson.<br>
<br>
For BGE's budget billing, call 410-685-0123. For Pepco's program, call 202-833-7500.<br>
<br>
<i>-- Hanah Cho</i>

( AP photo / January 21, 2007 )

Opening utility bills during the winter and summer can be alarming. Many consumers are finding that out right now. The fluctuations in payments can throw off any budget, especially if you owe more than expected.

If you want consistency during uncertain times, consider plans that spread out heat and electricity costs into even monthly payments.

Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., which serves 1.2 million business and residential electricity customers and 630,000 natural gas customers in Central Maryland, offers budget billing.

About 300,000 BGE customers participate in budget billing. There is no charge to sign up.

The utility says it reviews budget billing accounts periodically so there isn't a large deficit or overpayment building up. If an adjustment is required, customers are notified a month before the change.

BGE pays 6 percent simple interest on any credit balance you have.

Theresa V. Czarski, deputy people's counsel, says a budget billing plan can be a good option for consumers who like to keep track of their monthly expenses.

"People need to be aware ... that it gets recalculated based on your usage, and so your budget billing for a period of months will be the same, but it could be recalculated. It could go up or down," Czarski said.

Other utilities, such as Pepco and Allegheny Power, provide similar payment plans for their customers.

Pepco, which serves 520,000 electricity customers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, saw a slight uptick in the number of customers in its averaged-payment plan last year to 37,169, from 36,514 in 2007, according to spokesman Clay Anderson.

For BGE's budget billing, call 410-685-0123. For Pepco's program, call 202-833-7500.

-- Hanah Cho

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