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Looking back on 2015, there have been a lot of things going on with Servant Energy 2016respect to the energy business and how it affects different industry sectors, as well certain areas like my home state of Texas! Natural gas prices lumbered at historical lows and with oil prices still on a downward spiral since June 2014, into the $36.00 range, some analysts predict that prices could fall below $30.00. Consumers have been able to benefit from the price drop at the pump, while some oil companies have started to feel the heat from declining oil prices.

In Texas, construction is finishing the year off strong, especially in the DFW area, where we continue to see a significant rise in construction and job creation. Houston, although not able to keep up the pace it had for the last few years, still has cranes in the air and new developments are coming online. Driving around the DFW area, cranes have been popping up all over town due to the construction of corporate relocations, office buildings, multifamily buildings, mixed use, and manufacturing additions. This has been a great sign for DFW! The construction companies and developers are enjoying some good times that can hopefully last another two to three years.

While these construction companies and large building owners continue to build, their power needs become great and more complex. Getting power for projects is not just a cost of doing business; it really is a way to more effectively managing the project by planning ahead of time. My firm, Servant Energy Partners, truly believes that by involving power needs at the beginning of the construction process a company can save large amounts of time and costs, plus add savings to the bottom line. Our firm takes the approach that every project is unique. Finding out time frames, challenges, and the load can help a company put a road map plan in place, ensuring that power is ready and available when needed for the project. Additionally, ensuring that there is a long term process in place to handle the power needs for the duration of the project, all the way through transition to the ownership group.

Servant Energy Partners, which includes a team of skilled former utility personnel, helps our construction, developer, and building owner’s partners through the process, so they will have peace of mind when they start a project and ensure that they will be prepared to handle any challenges and obstacles that may arise. All while saving money on the power they use. We have been fortunate to be a part of some of the largest projects in the DFW area in 2015, including State Farm (Austin Commercial), Raytheon Headquarters (A & P), Parkland Hospital (BARA), and Liberty Mutual (Balfour Beatty). What a blessing and a pleasure it has been to be involved in these projects.

Our goal, at Servant Energy Partners, has always been to serve our clients and help them save on the energy. As our 2015 journey is coming to an end, we want to thank all of our partners who have help make our 5th year in business a year of exciting growth and rewards, both personally and professionally. We hope that you will allow us to help you on your journey, as your energy partner in the coming years. “Power Up for 2016” and Beyond!

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Dallas-based power line operator Oncor has set up a hotline to answer customer questions at 1-888-875-6279 or online at http://www.askoncor.com.

“We expect to get questions on everything from ‘How do I switch retailers?’ to ‘What is a kilowatt?’ and everything in between,” Oncor chief customer officer Brenda Jackson said.

“As we’ve heard multiple times since the smart meter questions began and the February snowstorm, customers need and want someone to turn to. Before we began stepping up, there wasn’t really anyone serving them.”

Oncor spokeswoman Megan Wright said operating the hotline probably won’t cost much, because Oncor already employs the customer service agents and experts who will answer the questions. She said if the program becomes costly, Oncor would probably ask regulators to include the cost in the rates electricity customers pay each month.

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After testing thousands of digital meters and reviewing hundreds of thousands of records, Oncor says it has found fewer than 25 defective smart meters.
That’s 25 out of 1.1 million smart meters that the regulated power line operator has installed in Texas. None of the defective meters were in Oak Cliff, Temple or Killeen – areas where customers have complained that the meters caused bills to spike.
“It’s a really nice outcome,” said Oncor chief executive Bob Shapard.
Last winter, customers complained that their electricity bills rose as soon as Oncor installed the new meters. The concerns prompted the Public Utility Commission to hire a consultant to test whether the meters and back-office equipment worked properly.
Oncor officials have said many bills rose during the winter because it was unusually cold. Electric heaters had to work harder to keep homes comfortable.
Shapard knows that response irritates people.
“It doesn’t satisfy customers to say, ‘Well, it wasn’t the meter,’ ” he said.
People want to find out why their bills rose, he said. That’s why Oncor set up a hotline to answer customer questions about electricity, at 1-888-875-6279 or http://www.askoncor.com.
The Public Utility Commission instructed utilities to exchange old, mechanical meters for new digital meters.
The new meters, sometimes called smart meters, will allow the utility to turn power on and off remotely and fix outages more quickly. The meters can also allow customers to see how much electricity they use each day, rather than wait for a bill.
Oncor has installed around 1.1 million smart meters, on its way to 3.4 million by the end of 2012. The PUC is allowing Oncor to charge customers $2.21 a month for 11 years to pay for the meters.
Shapard sent a letter on Thursday to the Public Utility Commission with the results of Oncor’s tests.
Oncor tested more than 7,300 smart meters at the request of customers. The company hired by the PUC to test meters, Navigant Consulting, tested 2,600.
Navigant found one meter that incorrectly registered higher readings, Shapard said. So Oncor tested similar meters and found around 25 with the same defect. The meter vendor paid to fix the problem, and Oncor provided electricity retailers with corrected billing information.
Shapard said those customers had paid, on average, about $100 too much for electricity.
The letter also says Oncor reviewed the records of about 780,000 customers and found human errors in about 1,800 cases. In some cases, the Oncor worker who replaced the meter read the old meter incorrectly. Shapard said Oncor corrected those errors.
Shapard said Oncor found no problems with back-office or software systems. He said Navigant hadn’t informed him of any such problems, either.
PUC spokesman Terry Hadley said Navigant probably would present its findings at the next PUC meeting, July 30. Once the commissioners have discussed the results, they will probably release the report to the public, he said.
Some retail electric providers, who compete for customers’ business, agree that the meter doesn’t tend to be the problem.
“We’re able to look at just the usage, and we’re not able to see anything in our usage data that would suggest a bias between groups that have and don’t have a smart meter,” said TXU Energy spokesman Brian Tulloh.
So what’s causing bills to rise? Shapard said most of the time, people need to shop for lower electricity rates, insulate their homes or upgrade to more efficient appliances.
“That’s 95 percent of the high bill problems in the business,” he said.

By ELIZABETH SOUDER / The Dallas Morning News
esouder@dallasnews.com

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