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High Electric Bills


What is a high bill?

There are two types of high bills: those that are consistently high and those that have unusual “peaks”.  Which type can determine where to startlooking.  A “peak” more often indicates a repair problem with an electric appliance and a consistently high bill implies the need for an examination of usage.

Basic residential use includes: refrigeration, lighting, television and other electronic equipment.  If you use electricity to heat water, your usage will be higher.  If you heat your living space with electricity it is not uncommon to see bills between $250-$450 in winter months.

Why are my electric bills so high?  Is this my problem?

Power companies cannot “push” power through the meter.  Power surges that occasionally occur on power lines make virtually no difference in usage because they happen for such a short interval, generally less then one second.  If power is registering on the meter then it is being used somewhere.

Most high bill problems can be unraveled by an examination of usage.

What are my electric company’s responsibilities?

Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op tests meters periodically to make sure the meter is accurate.  You can request a meter test, however there is a $55 charge.  If there is a problem with the meter, that fee is refunded.  However, if the meter is accurate, the fee is non-refundable.  Be aware, the possibility of a meter malfunctioning is minimal.

Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op will provide you with an appliance worksheet that can help you figure out the average usage for most appliances. We will also send you your usage for at least the last two years.  Are you using the same amount that you did last year?  Do your bills follow a pattern; i.e. higher in the spring when your basement sump pump runs, higher in July and August when your dehumidifier and air conditioner are running, or higher in December when your Christmas lights are on?

All those things checked out, now what do I do?

When it comes to usage, any appliances that make heat from electricity should be the first change to consider.  Many electric hot water heaters will consume 350-500 kWh per month, often far more where there are large families, leaking taps or hot water laundry usage.  It is also important to make sure that your hot water heater is working properly.  If you own your own electric water heater, call an electrician.

Another common source of high bills are electric space heaters placed in rooms that are rarely used.  The space heaters can unknowingly be left on, leading to high usage.  Also, the thermostat switches on these heaters can be unreliable and the heater may actually be on when the switch is in the “off” position.  To ensure that heaters are off, it is a good idea to unplug space heaters or turn the breaker off at the main breaker panel.

Old refrigerators are also notorious for high electricity usage.  If you have an old one in the garage or basement and can live without it, you will likely save a lot of kWh usage by disposing of it.  If you can afford to replace an old one that is needed with a newer more efficient model, this will pay off in the long run with lower electric bills.

What else can I do?

Shut off your main circuit breaker(s) and look at your meter.  It should be stopped and everything in your home should be off and unable to be turned on.  If the meter is still moving, something is wired into your meter base in addition to your main service panel and you should find out what it is.  An example of this may be an outbuilding that is serviced off the meter, but doesn’t go through your main circuit breaker.  Any wire that runs to such a building is your responsibility and may have a fault in it.  Turn your main circuit breaker back on.

Starting in the kitchen and with a pad of paper and pencil in hand, shut off or unplug everything in the home, noting down each appliance that you shut off so that you remember to turn it on again later.  While you are writing down the appliances you are turning off, also note the wattage of the appliance and the approximate number of hours it is on each day.  Use this information to complete the worksheet from Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op. 

When you are finished the meter should be stopped.  If not, you forgot something or there is something you don’t know about.  Turn the appliances back on one at a time.  After you turn on each appliance, go to the meter and see how quickly the wheel on the meter is turning.  If one appliance makes the wheel turn faster then others, you should look specifically at that appliance for faults or malfunctions.

Here are some culprits of high electric bills:

  • Water pumps that are working over time, more than usual or inefficiently
  • Water heaters especially ones that are used often or have a damaged element
  • Water bed heaters
  • Space heaters
  • Heat tapes
  • Air conditioners
  • Aging refrigerators

Read your meter at the same time each month.  By taking a regular reading each month you will keep your bill on a consistent 30 day cycle and avoid fluctuating bills.  You can also take daily readings to see how much power you use in a day.  You can experiment by turning off a suspected high usage appliance for a day and seeing what happens to consumption.

I have done everything you recommended and I still can’t figure out what is going on or I have figured out what is going on but still want to lower my electric bill.  What can I do now?

Low-income consumers can contact their local Family Independence Agency and ask about their local Weatherization Program.  Weatherization contractors offer many energy saving services to income-qualified households and often know about programs that will help low-income consumers find help on  lowering their electric bills.

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