There's an 80-percent chance your business is being incorrectly billed by utility companies, according to Andrew Kidgell, president of Utility Savers in Bradenton. And guess what? Only 1 percent of these mistakes are in your favor.
Since a utility company usually won't audit your business to find billing errors that can total thousands of dollars annually, Kidgell found a business niche by finding the overcharges for you. He audits a company's bills, and if he finds over-billing, he makes sure his client gets a refund on water, sewer, garbage, electric, gas and telephone. He'll also offer suggestions for utility conservation. The service, he says, is free unless he finds errors. Then he's paid on a contingency basis of 50 percent of any savings he procures for his client.
"Utilities are probably one of the top expenses, after payroll and supplies," says Kidgell. "People assume their bills are correct."
Finding billing errors is difficult. FPL has scores of rate plans, for example, and Verizon has a 24-inch thick binder that outlines its legislated tariffs and rates. It takes someone familiar with the local, state and federal rates to catch the errors. "We take apart a client's bill and, based upon their consumption, we recreate it following the ordinances and the correct rate plan," he says. If Utility Savers' total doesn't match the utility company's, Kidgell knows there's an error.
Kidgell recently discovered $80,000 in over-billing by a county government utility that had been occurring for 22 years. He also audited the bills of a 60-unit condominium resort and discovered the client was being overcharged $18,000 to $19,000 a year in phone charges. "That's almost the salary of an employee," he says. "People get used to the status quo of $2,000 a month on their phone bill, and because there may be high turnover at a business, the next employee assumes $2,000 is correct and it gets passed on."
Overpayments and waste in commercial accounts occur for four reasons, says Kidgell: Businesses don't have everything they're paying for, they don't need everything they have, there are billing errors, or another service provider offers the commodity at a more competitive price. Incorrect readings, misclassification of a business, data entry errors and uncompetitive rates are some of the situations that lead to savings. Changes in tenants, usage patterns or even utility company growth can also lead to or compound these problems.
This isn't a malicious act on the part of utility companies. "Rather," says Kidgell, "they have too many customers and insufficient staff to undertake such a huge task. With literally dozens of rate plans in some cases, understanding exactly how a business uses its utilities and what it's best qualified for is not an objective for them. Therefore, generalization is the typical resolution."
Kidgell says 80 percent of the businesses he works with-including hotels and resorts, medical centers, restaurants and public buildings-save money after an audit. The hotel industry frequently benefits from utility audits and conservation methods.
Kidgell has audited water billing and usage at two resorts on Longboat Key, saving the company thousands of dollars a year by finding leaks, switching wasteful shower heads to low-flow heads and catching errors in trash billing. He also found a secondary and more competitive gas company. "I didn't even know we could do that," says Wayne Lashway, director of interval ownership for the resorts.
"All I'm saying is pull out your bills and look at them or get someone else to do it," Kidgell says.
UTILITY SAVING MEASURES
Hotel, condominiums, and just about any business or association with a pool can save up to 70 percent on heating bills by using geothermal pumps. YMCA's, apartments, condominiums and municipal swimming pools are all making the switch.
Falcon urinals are waterless, save on water costs, keep pipes free of calcification and eliminate pipe cleaning.
Boilers and hot water generators are major consumers of energy in all sectors. The renewable energy industry proposes integrating solar-thermal technology for improved efficiency.
Lighting consumes 25 to 30 percent of a building's utilities and contributes to wasteful heat, according to www.energystar.gov, a national program helping businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency. Making a comprehensive lighting upgrade requires minimal costs and can produce highly profitable energy savings.