What your electric utility bill is NOT telling you

This blog was written by John D. Wilson, former Deputy Director for Regulatory Policy at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | November 10, 2011 | Energy Efficiency, Utilities

A fascinating new study from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy takes a look at what’s on the bills that electric utilities send to their customers. OK, you have got to be an energy geek to appreciate this kind of insight, but here are two observations.

ACEEEs report, The State of the Utility Bill, can be accessed by clicking the graph above.
ACEEE’s report, “The State of the Utility Bill,” can be accessed by clicking the graph above.

One-quarter of electric utility bills DO NOT show the rate being charged ($/kWh). That’s right, if you go to the grocery store and buy 11 kiwi fruits at 7 for $1, most grocery receipts will actually tell you that your 11 kiwis cost 14 cents each. I am simply stunned that any electric utility would send a customer a bill without the electric rate being identified.

This is particularly relevant to clean energy since the purported reason that many electric utilities say they do not want to implement energy efficiency or renewable energy programs is because those programs could drive up rates . . . and that customers would complain about (very tiny) rate increases. Well, apparently for one-third of those utilities, the customers don’t even get to see their rates!

Of course, the best way for a customer to control costs is to invest in cost-effective energy efficiency, which leads me to my second observation . . .

Very, very few bills made ANY mention of energy efficiency. Which is amazing, considering that one of the methods ACEEE used to acquire bills was to reach out to the members of the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, which includes in its membership most of the electric utilities that operate leading energy efficiency programs.

It is worth noting that ACEEE’s review set a very low threshold. More advanced and effective energy efficiency programs, such as Opower programs (which includes a neat partnership with NRDC and Facebook), go well beyond simply providing an energy saving “tip” or a phone number to call, and engage customers using the latest information about how to help customers learn about energy use.

Kudos to ACEEE for highlighting this enormous opportunity to better connect energy consumers with information about how they can take simple cost-effective steps to save money every month by making smart changes to use clean energy!