The Woodward News

Local News

June 12, 2014

A look at your electric bill

Woodward, Okla. — It is getting to be that time of year when temperatures rise and right along with that comes the increase in electric bills.

If you ask local businessman Gary Wise he will tell you that most often, he really doesn't study the small details contained in his electric bill, but he does notice the bottom line differences.

"I think most people just look at the bottom line of the bill and realize it was $120 last month and a $130 this month," he said.

But contained in the details might be the reason the bill went up, said Northwest Oklahoma Electric Cooperative Marketing Director Melissa Washmon.

That's because the rise in the price of your bill might be related to more electrical usage in your home. Or it might be related simply to the cost of the fuel it took to produce that electricity you used even if it was the same amount or even a little less than last month, she said.

"The fuel cost is something that we make no money on, it is just a cost passed through us to the customer," Washmon said.  "But it does impact your bill."

So, you could arguably be conserving electricity and still pay more, or the converse could be true as well. You could be leaving lights on and using more electricity and actually pay less for that month, because the cost of the fuel went down, she said.

Understanding your bill helps you become a more active player in conservation and can help you learn when the cost of electricity is highest and how to make small changes that could impact your bill in a big way, said OG&E Community Affairs Manager Tim Thompson.

"Of the people who have become part of our Smart Hours billing program, 99 percent of them have saved money just by using less electricity during peak hours," Thompson said.

But to begin the process, Thompson suggests understanding your own electrical usage from month to month and getting to know your bill.

The first thing both NWEC and OG&E customers must understand is that residential customers are charged a different rate than commercial customers. So comparing your bill against your friend's electric bill from his business will not make any sense, Washmon said.

Each bill from NWEC includes on the top line, the time frame the actual electrical usage occurred for which you are being billed.

The following lines are:

2. Fuel - This is a charge related to the cost of the fuel that was used to produce the electricity for your usage during that billing period. When the price of fuel (such as coal or natural gas) goes up or down, depending on the amount over or under the base rate the company planned for, that line Item will also fluctuate.

3. Base Rate Charge - This is the least amount your bill will ever be. It is a charge that simply secures your electric service for your home, even if you don't use a single kilowatt hour of electricity, according to NWEC officials. OG&E does not break out the base rate it charges for residential service on its bill. It is contained within the "Charge for Electric Service" or the fourth line on the OG&E bill.

4. Consumer Cost Adjustment (NWEC) or Fuel Adjustment Factor (OG&E) - this line item will usually have a fractional number such as 0.000842/KWH in front of it. This is the amount the actual cost of fuel per kilowatt hour went over or under the base rate the company estimated for the cost of the fuel that it would take to produce your electricity, Thompson said.

This means, in some years, the cost of the fuel will be lower than the company estimated and so at times, consumers will see a credit placed there, Washmon said.

5. Previous Amount Due - This is the amount of your last bill and the following one will include if you paid that amount.

Contained within your NWEC or OG&E electric bill is valuable information about how much electricity you have been using from month to month, Thompson said.

Each bill has a flow chart, which can help consumers see which months they are using the most electricity and both bills can give you an idea of the average daily cost of your usage, he said.

But there is much more to how and when you use the power source in your home than what is on your bill, Thompson said.

What many people don't know is that their electricity costs actually vary even throughout the day.

For instance, a customer who has turned his air conditioning down to 70 degrees and is cooling his house vigorously from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. (also known as peak hours of usage) could actually be paying more than double for those kilowatts used than he would if he had waited until after 7 p.m. to cool his house down, Thompson said.

That is why OG&E has implemented a program called Smart Hours. This program allows the owner of the home, through the use of a programable thermostat, to cool his house in the early part of the day, turn the thermostat back up before 2 p.m. and then back down again, to cool at 7 p.m., Thompson said.

OG&E customers who sign up for Smart Hours will have a smart thermostat installed for free by OG&E, Thompson said.

"I use Smart Hours and it has saved me about 20 percent on my monthly bills," he said. "We are not asking customers to use less power, we are just asking them to reduce their usage during peak hours."

NWEC also has a daily information program that allows customers to be texted or notified of the daily electrical rate they are being charged. This allows NWEC customers to manually alter their usage, Washmon said.

According to Washmon, little changes in your home can also provide consumers some relief from higher bills.

Things like changing light bulbs out from incandescent to CFL (compact florescent lights) can take your usage for that single light down by more than a half, Washmon said.

Also consider turning off computers during the day, she said.

"These appliances we have that still have a light on, are still using power. So, even when your television is off, it's really not off all the way," she said.

Washmon also reminded rural residents, who are the lion's share of NWEC customers, to remember heat lamps they may have left on in their well houses and to check for leaking pipes. That can also cause a well pump to run all the time, ramping up those electrical costs.

Remember that leaving phone chargers and other device chargers plugged in may not seem like it is using that much power, but it is using power, Washmon said.

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