A HIGH-EN­ERGY SUM­MER

Why your elec­tric bill might be more ex­pen­sive than ever

Chicago Sun-Times - - DRIVE HOME - DALVIN BROWN USA TO­DAY

Daniel Modell’s elec­tric­ity bills are higher than ever.

In March, both he and his part­ner were forced to work re­motely after COVID-19 lock­downs be­gan. The cre­ative con­sul­tant lost in­come after his job made salary cuts across all em­ploy­ees due to pan­demic-re­lated bud­get cuts. Mean­while, the cou­ple’s power bill grew higher with each month that passed.

In June and July, it was up al­most $150 over the same time last year.

“You’re not in your apart­ment dur­ing the day when you’re at work so there’s no need to leave any­thing run­ning,” Modell said. “But sud­denly you’re in your own apart­ment for 24 hours a day and the elec­tric­ity bills that you get are just ab­so­lutely astro­nom­i­cal.”

Amer­i­cans are nav­i­gat­ing many pan­demi­cre­lated fi­nan­cial is­sues dur­ing the re­ces­sion: job losses, re­stric­tive rental agree­ments and slashed 401(k) con­tri­bu­tions to name a few.

Mak­ing mat­ters worse, data sug­gests many are also see­ing sig­nif­i­cant rises in their util­ity and elec­tric bills each month due to re­mote work.

It should come as lit­tle sur­prise that most of the ad­di­tional cost is be­cause peo­ple are spend­ing more time at home, ex­perts say.

The pan­demic is com­pelling en­ergy cus­tomers to stay in­doors more than nor­mal dur­ing some of the hottest months of the year, which could drive up en­ergy costs, ac­cord­ing to Katie Allen, a sav­ings ex­pert at Pa­cific Gas and Elec­tric Com­pany in Cal­i­for­nia.

“There are more fam­i­lies at home this sum­mer, and it looks there might be more at home go­ing into the school year with re­mote learn­ing,” she added.

Fluc­tu­a­tions in elec­tric­ity bills are usu­ally the re­sult of changes in out­door tem­per­a­tures. Elec­tric bills are typ­i­cally low­est dur­ing the milder spring and fall months when you don’t have to run air con­di­tion­ers or heaters.

But with peo­ple spend­ing more time at home, one-third of U.S. house­holds should see elec­tric­ity bills climb 10% to 15% higher this sum­mer, ac­cord­ing to data from the clean en­ergy tech­nol­ogy firm Ar­ca­dia.

House­holds in metro ar­eas will spend the most, be­tween $2 and $37 more on util­ity bills this sum­mer, Ar­ca­dia found.

Work­ing from home? Ex­pect a higher util­ity bill

Joe Toscano’s elec­tric­ity bills are up about $20 per month since he’s been work­ing from home in Pittsburgh, Penn­syl­va­nia and is us­ing the AC more of­ten. His wife is also us­ing more power to work from home. So is his daugh­ter who shifted to re­mote learn­ing in March.

“I’m us­ing my com­puter nine to 10 hours a day, so is my wife and so is my daugh­ter,” Toscano said. “That’s some­thing that we weren’t do­ing be­fore.”

Ways to lower your elec­tric bill

If your elec­tric­ity bills are mount­ing, there are things you can do to curb costs, but your ap­proach should de­pend on where you live, ex­perts say.

Peo­ple who live in dereg­u­lated en­ergy states like Texas, Rhode Is­land, Penn­syl­va­nia and Ohio have a few more sav­ings op­tions than oth­ers, ac­cord­ing to Ben Kur­land, co­founder of the bill ne­go­ti­at­ing ser­vice Bil­lFix­ers.

“Those who live in dereg­u­lated mar­kets should shop around to find the cheap­est rate of­fered to them,” Kur­land said. “The de­fault rate that you’re pay­ing is prob­a­bly not the low­est rate that’s avail­able.”

Shop around and ne­go­ti­ate

After see­ing what’s out there, you can ei­ther switch to a new com­pany or use that knowl­edge as lever­age to ne­go­ti­ate with your cur­rent elec­tric­ity provider, Kur­land added.

Peo­ple who live in gas reg­u­lated states like Mis­sis­sippi, Alabama and Ne­vada don’t have the free­dom to go into the open en­ergy mar­ket, since those states choose en­ergy providers for them.

If you live in a power reg­u­lated state, you should call your elec­tric­ity provider to ask about spe­cials or deals you might qual­ify for, Kur­land said.

“They won’t ap­ply the dis­count you qual­ify for un­less you get in touch with them,” Kur­land said.

If you’re un­sure whether your state is reg­u­lated or dereg­u­lated, Ar­ca­dia pub­lished a full list you can re­fer to.

Use in­stall­ment plans or bill re­lief pro­grams

You can also ask to pay your bill in in­stall­ments, which most elec­tric­ity com­pa­nies al­low, ac­cord­ing to Barry Gross, CEO of Bil­lCut­terz, which ne­go­ti­ates rates with ser­vice providers to get bet­ter prices for clients.

Be­yond con­tact­ing your elec­tri­cal com­pany, there are other places to find en­ergy bill re­lief.

The gov­ern­ment offers a Low In­come Home En­ergy As­sis­tance Pro­gram meant for peo­ple who need tem­po­rary help with their heat­ing and cool­ing en­ergy costs.

There are also var­i­ous other COVID-19-re­lated re­lief ef­forts to help fam­i­lies that run into fi­nan­cial trou­ble.

For ex­am­ple, Solix Inc. is work­ing with states to en­sure peo­ple have ac­cess to crit­i­cal ser­vices in­clud­ing elec­tric­ity.

En­ergy-ef­fi­cient light bulbs, ACs, smart ther­mostats and other ap­pli­ances could save you money over time, ex­perts say.

You can also re­duce the bright­ness on your tele­vi­sion, turn down the tem­per­a­ture in your re­frig­er­a­tor and un­plug ap­pli­ances that aren’t in use. Many plug-in elec­tron­ics use what ex­perts call “Vam­pire Power,” or leech en­ergy even when they are shut off.

“If you’ve got a mil­lion lit­tle elec­tron­ics plugged in, they’re all just sit­ting there do­ing noth­ing but chug­ging power,” Kur­land said. “And you’re spend­ing a cou­ple of bucks on each of them ev­ery month.”

Allen of PG&E says peo­ple should use win­dow shades so that ACs don’t have to run as hard. Air con­di­tion­ing costs make up 40% of your elec­tri­cal bill, she said.

“Clos­ing the shades in the af­ter­noon to keep that ex­treme heat from com­ing into your home can help,” Allen said. She also said peo­ple should try to limit how of­ten they open the fridge be­cause it uses more power to cool down after you let the cold air out.

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