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Your electric bill: so much Billshit, so little time

Posted By Kristin Wong On 01/27/2014 @ 8:30 am In Billshit | 28 Comments

Since October, I’ve spent only about $25 a month on electricity. Impressive, eh?

Well, maybe I shouldn’t toot my own horn quite so loudly. Because last summer, I spent an average of $130 a month on electricity. Since then I’ve made an effort to reduce my energy usage, and it looks like it paid off. As you can see from the screenshot below, my total energy bill for October-December was $49.32. That’s for two months, and that’s the lowest my electric bill has been. Ever.

In this edition of Billshit, I decided to inspect my energy bill to learn more about each charge and see if I could cut it down even more. Let’s check it out.

Subtotal Energy Charges: $43.57

In Los Angeles, our energy bill comes every two months. In case you’re not great at math, this averages out to about $22 a month. Granted, in recent months, I haven’t been using the air conditioning and no doubt that makes a huge difference. ┬áBut there are two more ways I’ve cut back on energy in recent months:

  • I unplug cellphone and other chargers when not in use.
  • I use smart power strips.

Anyway, at $22/month, I’m content with this charge. But there’s an interesting finding on this bill.

Energy Tiers

On this bill, I’ve only fallen under a “Tier 1 Energy” rate, which is 0.13/kWh. Here’s the thing. On my last bill, most of my usage fell under Tier 1, but some fell under Tier 2, which was more expensive. The Tier 2 rate is 0.16/kWh. Once you reach 1,000 kWh of usage, you’re bumped up to a more expensive Tier. I called LADWP to confirm:

“So the more energy I use, the more expensive the rate is?”

“After a certain amount, yes,” the rep told me.

It’s kind of like paying for extra minutes when you go over your cellphone plan. Or being in a higher tax bracket. For a more formal explanation, here’s how the California Public Utilities Commission spits it:

“The rate structure is divided into tiers with a baseline as the basic allocation.┬áBaseline is your energy allowance for basic needs and is billed at the lowest rate.”

Electricity rates are determined by the state, and there’s not much you can do about them. Except–keep yourself at the “baseline,” which means using less energy. Once you pass the baseline, you’re paying even more for your energy usage.

Taxes and surcharges: $4.45

This month, my city of Los Angeles utility tax was $4.36. As long as I’m a resident, I don’t have much choice but to pay this:

“All residential and business customers with a billing or service address in the unincorporated areas of the County of Los Angeles are required to pay the UUT. The service supplier (i.e., your gas, telephone, or electric supplier) is responsible for the collection of the UUT and the remittance of the UUT to the Los Angeles County Treasurer and Tax Collector.”

But here’s the thing. This tax is a whopping 10 percent of my bill. That’s even higher than our state sales tax (for now). As is the case with all that Tier business, it pays to have a lower bill. Which sounds kind of obvious, but you know what I mean.

The same goes for the State Energy Surcharge:

“State law directs electric utility companies to gather a state energy surcharge. As of November 8, 2010, this is set at .29 of one mil ($0.00029) per kilowatt/hour (kWh) of electricity consumed by all electrical customers. These funds are segregated in the state treasury as the Energy Resources Program Account.”

Point is, the more energy you use, the higher these taxes and charges are going to be. My previous bill was $276. $26 of that came from taxes and surcharges. This month, my taxes and surcharges totaled less than five bucks.

Solid waste charge: $1.30

In a separate section on my bill is a “Solid Waste Charge” from the LA Bureau of Sanitation. I’ve never noticed this charge on my bill before, but it’s been there. The $1.30 is a “Bulky Item Fee.”

“Is this mandatory?” I asked the rep. “I live in an apartment complex.”

She explained, kindly, that the fee is specifically for apartment buildings that use private trash services. The fee pays for bulky item pick-ups from the City.

“So if you ever need to get rid of something big, like a couch, you can call us and we’ll come pick it up,” she told me.

Good to know.

The lessons here? It’s worth checking your bills and taking the five minutes to research or ask about a charge. You might not be able to do anything about some of them, but you could be paying for a valuable service you’re not using.

Plus, I realized just how much it pays to conserve energy. With the taxes, surcharges and rate difference, you’re basically paying money to pay money. As evidenced by the difference in my latest two bills from LADWP, a few changes can make a big difference.

What do you think? How do you cut down your electric bill?

(Photo: Todd [3])


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