It’s that time of year when most everyone’s electrical usage begins to increase. Is there an explanation for it? Always. But breaking through the language barrier and communicating the reasons in non-industry language is part of the answer.

Consumers are constantly bombarded with the latest and greatest in “energy saving” products. There is a tremendous amount of marketing, promoting the exchange of your dollars for the quick energy-saving fix. A little education goes a long way.

Let’s start with the language of the industry, then the manner in which we buy electricity, proceed through some of those miracle products and perhaps finish better prepared for the season upon us.

We can’t help it. Sometimes we become mired in industry speak. “Well ma’am, you pay the very low rate of 8.77¢ per kilowatt-hour! It’s much lower than the national average and so much lower than the 40¢ per kWh they pay in Hawaii!” And the typical response would be, “That’s wonderful! What’s a kilowatt-hour?” For the record, it’s running any 1,000-watt appliance for one hour.

We have LEDs, CFLS, clothes washers with MEFs and heat pumps with SEERs, COPs and HSPFs. What’s not to love and understand? In real language, for the same price you pay for your pumpkin spice latte, you could run your microwave, dishwasher and coffee maker for an entire month. Now that’s something everyone can relate to, even if they don’t like pumpkin. (But who doesn’t?)

Part of the challenge is that unlike almost everything else we purchase, our electric bill arrives a month after we have already used the product. If our cupboards and refrigerators were magically restocked every time we took something out, and we received a statement at the end of the month for everything we consumed and wasted, our reactions would be the same. “No way we ate or wasted that much!”

It sure makes a difference when you take the time to discover what spins your meter, and just as important, what doesn’t. Your utility has multiple resources to help you identify these things.

Let’s discuss the miracle products, like space heaters claiming to produce more heat with the same amount of wattage. Forgive me for this, but 1,000 watts of electricity will produce 3,413 BTUs of heat — no more, no less. The fact is, the $400 miracle heater doesn’t produce any more heat than the $40 heater from your local retail store.

The unit that claims to use a third less energy than the others does so because it’s only 1,000 watts compared to the other typical 1,500-watt units. A fireplace heater on the market claims that ‘the flames look so realistic, it’s a miracle’, employs a normal electric space heater. There is so much great marketing and yet so little energy efficiency information.

If you are looking for a reason your usage is so high, as opposed to every single person you talk to whose bill is lower than yours, your goal should be to identify the usage, a problem or both. Taking a little energy inventory helps identify the sources of electrical usage as well as the expected monthly cost to operate them.

If the total isn’t consistent with your actual usage on your invoice, it’s time to look for a problem. The culprit might be a leaking hot water heater or the pressure switch in the pumphouse. It could be the central heating system or space heaters that kick in when the woodstove fire goes out. It might be that space heater in the RV. Some are obvious, and many are not, but there is always an explanation.

There are no miracle cures. As utility representatives, allow us to be an objective resource. Go to www.dec.coop, www.pacificpower.net or www.myavista.com. We have information that will help you understand your usage, protect you from the scams, and above all, communicate in a manner that everyone can understand.

Todd C. Munsey is the Member Services Director for Douglas Electric Cooperative. This column is a monthly feature of Douglas County Smart Energy, a project of the Douglas County Global Warming Coalition.

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(2) comments

CitizenJoe

Thanks. May I suggest home monitors to learn about consumption? Also: as a society, we need to improve our grid to make it more efficient, capacious, and resilient.

Rise722

Nice photo, "Toad Munchie." (it's an endearment)

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