Thirty-day float between solvency and bankruptcy outside the lines |

Thirty-day float between solvency and bankruptcy outside the lines

A recently released OSHA report identified the three most hazardous occupations in California:

1. Provider of services for the public good (e.g., firefighter or police officer.)

2. Chief fund-raiser for the organization Women Democrats to Re-Elect the President.

3. Meter reader for a utility company.

Rationally, I know the gas company employee who visits my home once a month in his khaki uniform reminiscent of a Latin American mercenary and the pickup truck that has a back-up signal more annoying than the hum of the Emergency Broadcast System, is merely the harbinger of my financial ruin. He or she is responsible only for recording my therm usage (Latin for “fictitious yet scientific-sounding name for a grossly expensive and ever-fluctuating measuring unit as coined by a purveyor of natural gas”); it is up to the utility company to assign a cost to each expended therm.

I have stabilized my therm usage through economizing measures; my family members spend their waking hours in outerwear more suited to attendance at a January “Monday Night Football” game – in Wisconsin. Cheeseheads are optional. The thermostat is set to kick on only when the temperature in the room approximates the daily low for most Montana towns. Seeing one’s breath constitutes entertainment, not an excuse for variance from this policy. Ice scraper usage is no longer limited to automobile applications. But do try not to scratch the bathroom mirror with the irregular plastic edge.

Still, the exponential quality of my monthly gas bill continues to mystify me. According to my last month’s statement, a therm in December could be had for the low, low sum of about 55 cents: about half the cost of a January therm and presumably one fourth the price of a February therm. I can only attribute this cost doubling to one of two factors: either my gas company has taken to purchasing their therms from some sort of utility convenience store or the cost of a therm is somehow linked to the market price for lobster – both perfectly reasonable explanations.

What I find most disturbing is the seemingly capricious way that this intangible unit seems to derive its value. I’m sure there is some respectable formula based on supply and demand the utility companies employ that is both fair and competitive and deserving of the need to state the price per therm on the bill I receive with five digits to the right of the decimal point. I’m equally certain that the argument could be raised that I should be grateful to be living in a geographic area where the therm supply is still assured, if a little (or a lot) pricey. Still, I find the find the lack of correlation from one month’s gas bill to the next unsettling. I wouldn’t dream of patronizing a restaurant or a gas station where the prices aren’t supplied before consumption. Should I feel differently about my utility company?

Kelly has been advised to secure a cosigner before receipt of her next natural gas bill.

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