The Bradley County Commission will vote next week on proceeding with the next step in arriving at an energy performance contract designed to save million of dollars in energy costs over the next few decades and, in turn, pay for the needed upgrades. ESG Business Development Manager Russ Nelson said his firm has taken the last six weeks assessing the needs of the Bradley County Courthouse, the annex, the Justice Center, the health department and the parks and recreation facility. “In the courthouse, you have two very old boilers — no great efficiency there,” Nelson said. “The cooling tower for the air-conditioning system is well past its useful life. It’s going to use more electricity and more water.” Nelson also said there were “great opportunities” to improve the lighting system with new LED technology which produces less waste heat. The courthouse and annex face similar situations and all show needs in lighting upgrades and water conservation. He said what they found “is very typical.”
Welcome, everybody, to Balfour Beatty’s final yearend results for 2015. I’m Leo Quinn, the Chief Executive, and I’m joined today by Philip Harrison, my Finance Director. We’ll start off with a brief introduction and summary from myself. That will be followed by Phil, and he’ll give some detailed financials, and then I’ll give you an update on our Build to Last progress. So, let me start with a few observations. I started with Balfour Beatty 12 months ago and at that time I announced what effectively was our 24-month self-help plan, and that was a very, very deliberate decision, both in terms of the timing and the things that we would have to do. I think what’s key about self-help is that we were going to actually manage this transformation using our own assets and resources. We weren’t going to go outside to the market and look for help, which would mean an equity call or some other form of cash raising. So the last 12 months have been very, very challenging, and we’ve turned in what I think is a very strong performance. There’s no doubt that — I don’t want anybody to forget that we’re 12 months into a 24-month plan; therefore we’re halfway through, if anybody can’t do the maths on that. So we still have the other half to go. So I don’t want to be declaring victory in any way, shape, form or size. The first 12 months was a steep slope. My experience is that the second 12 months is always a steeper slope, so we have a lot to do. I think we’ve made rapid and meaningful progress in that period of time. We’ve effectively simplified a lot of the organization, and there’s still more to go. We’ve upgraded leadership, something that we will continue to relentlessly do in the Company. Our governance and controls have improved dramatically, and we’re starting to see a culture change based around measurement and transparency. So, in that count, good progress, but still a long ways to go. We’ve seen our order book start to stabilize and we still have one of the strongest sector balance sheets. In terms of our orders, we’ve taken a good, hard look at them, and in areas where we’ve had the legacy projects and the loss-making contracts, we’ve looked to reduce our exposure in those areas. And we’ve also made meaningful progress in respect of some of our contracts which effectively were just loss-making, and we’ve negotiated an exit from many of those.
Like most people these days, we use online bill paying. We enter our bill pay information once, the company sends an e-mail notification of the bill, we review it, and if it’s correct, we click Pay.
What we won’t do is Auto Bill Pay where you give a company permission to automatically debit your credit card or bank account every month. This is especially true if the company in question is a cable or water company, or anything that purports to be a health club. The first two are prone to errors (see my recent column about my neighbor’s $41,000 water bill after a meter reader transposed two digits); the latter is notorious for continuing to charge your credit card months after you’ve cancelled (or have expired). Further, our credit cards are compromised too often these days requiring replacement so an automatic debit is a recipe for disaster and/or having your water turned off. This is especially annoying in August.
What’s puzzling about our cable company’s billing site is that your only two options are either automatic bill pay (NEVER!) or having to re-input all of your bank or credit card information each and every month. I was hoping I had misunderstood this and contacted their Customer Chat line. Here is the verbatim transcript:
Alwin: Thank you for contacting XYZ Cable. At the end of our chat you will be given the option of taking a brief survey. My name is Alwin. How may I assist you?
Southern California Gas Co. has acknowledged that errors tied to the rollout of new digital meters installed at Orange County homes contributed to a rash of higher bills and customer complaints in recent months. The utility company said unannounced changes to meter-reading schedules during the shift to “advanced” meters caused some of the billing anomalies that have surfaced since late January. As they have in the past, gas company officials attribute complaints about suddenly higher bills primarily to a cold snap and increased use of fuel for heating that bumped customers into more costly pricing tiers. However, this week’s response to Register questions about continuing consumer protests was the first time the switch to new meters was included as a factor in the problems. Still, critics argue that the issue goes beyond weather and meter-reading changes – citing unusual February bills and puzzling explanations by company representatives. The general confusion has left some customers distrustful of the advanced-meter accuracy. One measure of customer distress has been the number of written complaints received by the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the gas company. Those jumped tenfold to 500 in January and February from the same period last year. The new meters being installed across the county upload data directly to the gas company and are gradually eliminating human meter readers. Roughly 220,000 Orange County customers – out of 930,000 – still have older meters, according to the gas company. About 9 percent of the newly installed meters in the region are not fully operational. This week, SoCalGas spokesman Javier Mendoza noted the company recently made changes in the routes used by meter readers assigned to the older equipment, without giving customers prior notice. He said some customers received bills covering more than 35 days, with some extending up to 49 days – far more than the typical 29-to-32-day billing cycle. The bigger bills resulting from the changes were compounded by a colder-than-usual winter, Mendoza said. The gas company sent customers letters promising to adjust bills to reconcile any differences caused by the change. The onus, however, is on the customer to investigate any issues. Mendoza stressed only a small portion of bills were affected: 140,000 of 6 million. “We apologize for the inconvenience of making this change,” Mendoza said in a prepared statement to the Register. “SoCalGas recognizes that in any mass deployment of technology there may be some speed bumps.”
Customers with the Snohomish County Public Utility District are upset over utility bills they say seem way too high. Snohomish public utility customers are complaining they are being charged for energy they haven’t actually used. “It went basically from around $50 a month, to over $72 for their new single monthly bill,” Chris Appel said. Appel was surprised to see his bill go up when he had taken steps to reduce his energy consumption. “My problem is they are collecting extra money from me and doing what they want with it for electricity that I haven’t even used,” Appel said. The problems started this fall when the PUD switched from a bi-monthly billing schedule to a monthly billing schedule. The district didn’t also increase the frequency of meter readings used to the determine the bill, forcing the district to base bills every other month on estimated usage. Appel complains those estimates are too high. “When I had a conflict with the bill I came out and looked at the actual meter reading,” Appel said. “You know, eight days after the billing cycle, I still hadn’t reached the 82,000 KWH they had estimated.” The Snohomish PUD said the switch to monthly billing was part of a system upgrade and added that switching to monthly meter readings as well would have been too expensive. The PUD said the estimated bills may be slightly incorrect but added that the bill will balance out the next month when the meter is read.