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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Off the Grid marketing

How much of our monthly natural gas payments are going to pay for National Grid's over-the-top marketing efforts?

Kudos to the Globe for unmasking what looked, felt and smelled like a scam -- a demand notice to pay up to $200 for an optional program to repair furnaces and boilers. I purchased the coverage one year as a naive new homeowner, then dropped it quickly after realizing it didn't cover much -- certainly not the plumber who would come out in the middle of the night if necessary.

But the clearly deceptive "bill" got me to thinking about what has become a monthly "neighbor comparison home energy report" that National Grid plunks in my mailbox, spending postage that is no doubt baked into the rates.

The first one was mildly interesting, telling me I was doing "good," offering a smiley face and telling me while I used less natural gas than "all" my neighbors, I was less thrifty than my "efficient" ones. Same story in the second and third notices, which quickly went into the trash.

But I took a closer look after the insurance scam mailing and notice National Grid only offers three categories, including "great" and "more than average." It offers me a 12-month view of energy use that shows, shock of shocks, I use less in the summer when the heat is off.

And I really can't tell me if my "efficient" neighbors use less because they are truly energy efficient or because they have less space to heat or keep the thermostat at polar levels.

Granted there is no hard sell, like the insurance come-on. They offer homey tips like let the sun warm the house, install a programmable thermostats and seal leaky ducts (hard to do with forced hot water).

So why the same mailing, month after month? Don't they have better things to do with our money than spend it on postage? Like making sure that transmission lines are safe and won't explode?

Let's hope marketing costs get a real close look the next time the Department of Public Utilities is asked to approve a National Grid rate hike.

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