Our Utility Rates Team's Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
by Tracy Fosterling on Dec 07, 2020
solar plus storage projects
Utility rates play a big role when modeling the avoided cost of your solar and energy storage projects in ETB Developer. We take a lot of pride in having the most accurate and transparent utility rate database in the industry. Our in-house utility rates team not only continually updates rates all over the country and all over the world, they are also heavily involved working with our users to answer questions and provide assistance on anything rates related. We currently have 7 full-time team members on our rates teams. For this article, Julia Krivchenkova, our Data Team Manager, Erin Christensen, our Senior Rates Analyst, and Jorie Rottman, our Senior Rates Analyst put together a list of their most frequently asked questions from our users:
1.) What's the difference between a global rate and a custom rate?
Our database contains over 100,000 rates which we divide into global and custom rates. A global rate is visible to every user in the platform, it contains the charges applicable to all members of that specific utility, accounts for the bundled utility service in the deregulated states, excludes any special programs, and gets updated by our in-house rates team every time a change to any rate component occurs. When creating an Energy Use Profile, global rates populate under ‘Energy Toolbase Rates’. A custom rate is not accessible by our entire userbase, because it typically includes charges that are specific to a unique client. Custom rates are oftentimes built for a particular project, which may include contracted or alternative supply charges, or were created strictly using bills due to lack of official tariff documentation. In the Energy Use Profile, custom rates populate under ‘User Defined Rates’ meaning they’re not visible to other users.
2.) When and why is a custom rate needed?
A custom rate is either created by an ETB Developer user or our utility rates team. It is only visible in the account to which it is assigned. Often the rate is project or customer-specific and is based on the electric bills provided. Although most of the rates in our database are readily available to all users, there are a few scenarios that would benefit from the creation of a custom rate. Below are the most common reasons:
- Third-party supplier (deregulated markets such as TX, IL, or CA)
- Opt-in programs (e.g. green energy purchases)
- Cooperative or municipal utility not releasing rate information
- Current platform limitations
When users request that our rates team create a custom rate on their behalf, it's always most ideal to provide us with a full 12-months of electric bills. This allows us to account for any seasonality or rate changes when creating a custom rate. That said, we understand that a full years’ worth of data is not always available, so we'll do our best to work with whatever information is provided.
3.) Why does ETB Developer calculate a different total than the actual utility bills I'm looking at?
The two most frequent causes of discrepancies are rate changes and taxes. ETB Developer defaults customers to using the most recent effective date rate. Therefore, if the usage being inputted is from a date range prior to the effective date of the rate there will be a difference between what ETB Developer calculates and what the utility bill shows. We've always suggested that our customers use the most recent effective date rate as it is the best representation of what projected savings will be going forward. Additionally, it's important to note that most of our rates do not contain tax. Within an Energy Use Profile, tax can be inputted as either a percentage or on a dollar per kWh basis. States such as Ohio assess a tax that is tiered based on usage. Since this type of tax structure cannot be precisely added within an Energy Use Profile, we include it within the rates themselves. We always encourage customers to reach out to the Data Team with any concerns regarding discrepancies as we are happy to help pinpoint the cause.
4.) What is the best way to request a rate?
Currently, there are two ways to request a rate. You can contact your account manager and they will forward your request through to the rates team. Alternatively, users are welcome to reach out to our rates team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. This email is viewed and accessed by our entire senior team which guarantees a prompt response and guidance. Using this email we’re also happy to answer any of your rate-related questions.
5.) How long does it take to get a rate added?
Our standard policy is a two business days turnaround time per rate, from the moment we receive all the necessary information. This amount of time allows us to do proper research on the utility and requested rate, test the rate and/or have it reviewed by another team member for accuracy. Furthermore, we process rate requests in the order in which they were received, so need to leave ourselves an extra time buffer. Depending on the urgency of some requests, we can prioritize requests and assign it within 24 hours. After submitting your request, expect our rates team to update you on our progress, and we may reach out for additional information or clarification if necessary.
6.) Can I add and edit rates myself?
Customers can absolutely add and edit rates themselves. The easiest and most foolproof way is to select the 'View all Rate Schedules' drop-down menu from the top navigation bar, and then copy/duplicate one of our global rates. ETB Developer users can also choose to create their own rates from scratch or use one of our pre-built templates by selecting the 'Create new Rate Schedule' drop-down. When doing so, the (custom) rate is only viewable and accessible by users with your account. so don't worry about making mistakes. We are always happy to set up a training session and walk you through the steps of creating a simply or more complex rate for yourself.
7.) Does this rate account for the demand ratchet(s)?
Our current infrastructure can account for two types of demand ratchets: (i) the number of kW that will be charged regardless of usage, or (ii) the percentage of the annual max demand occurrence. As an example, a demand definition could read that the billed demand will be the current month’s maximum or 60% of the highest demand occurring in the previous 11 months but not less than 100 kW. This is a demand ratchet that ETB Developer can easily apply. Our engineering team is working on an update that will enable our platform to model more complex demand ratchets; until that update takes place a custom rate may be needed for certain rate structures.
8.) I have a California CCA customer, does their rate need to be created as custom?
Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) utilities are nonprofit public entities that operate in Investor-Owned Utility (IOU) territories. Each CCA supplies electricity to the residents of a specific area. Because the electric load of a CCA is aggregated, they can offer a discounted generation rate to their customers. The associated IOU (SCE, SDG&E, or PG&E) is still responsible for (T&D) transmission and distribution of the electricity. Since CCAs are associated with a single IOU and both the CCA’s and IOU’s tariffs can be easily found online, these rates are readily available in our database. We currently maintain rates for 16 different California CCAs. When looking for a rate in ETB Developer, customers will want to select the CCA as the utility, not the associated IOU.
9.) Why is 12 months worth of bills necessary when creating a custom rate?
The short answer is accuracy! When we only see one or two billings, we can't see the customer's annual variations or seasonality that can be billed. When we create a rate and associated Energy Use Profile without having a full year of billing data, we need to make assumptions about the missing data. We generally do this based on replicating the data that we do have (e.g. if you only provide us 1 bill, we would replicate the other 11 months off that bill). This could obviously lead to a significant discrepancy in the annual total. There are several possible reasons for bill variances: rate or supplier switch, charges that change every month (TPS/Hourly Supply), different charges in Summer than Winter, one-time utility adjustments (temp credits or charges), etc.
10.) Can I add in solar charges/credits into the rate?
Users can create any type of custom rate they desire, we don't restrict or police that. And there are some cases where it can yield the correct answer and this may be the only option. That said, we strongly advise users to use ETB Developer the way it is intended to work, which is to use either a global or custom rate, assign it to a pre-solar Energy Use Profile, define a utility rate switch if necessary, enter the specifics of the solar and/or energy storage system, which then generates a post solar + storage load profile, and calculates the avoided cost or utility bill savings of the project. This will always be the most accurate way to account for the specifics of rate switching and different net metering/billing scenarios, and avoid any unintended consequences of hacking solar charges/credits into a custom rate schedule itself.