The two winter storms earlier this year have resulted in outsized electric bills across the Greater Charleston area, delivering a wallop to customers' wallets.
The good news: There are easy ways to reduce the financial strain that can come with unusually high power bills.
One simple thing most residential electric customers can do is sign up with their utility company for averaged bills, typically called levelized billing. This means the power company will bill you for roughly the average amount of power you use each month, with no extra charges or fees.
That means the bill won't skyrocket if your power consumption spikes.
Here's an example of how that can work from my own electric bill.
My electricity bill for the period between mid-January and mid-February zoomed up to $274, the highest monthly bill I've had in years, because of to unusual heating costs. On SCE&G's budget billing plan, I would instead pay $172, which is roughly the average of my last 12 bills.
That sort of plan can help consumers, by making their bills predictable and easier to budget, and the power companies love it because it smooths out their revenues.
Typically, the utility company will figure out your average monthly cost, then adjust the amount from time to time to account for changes in rates or usage.
Note that levelized billing has nothing to do with SCE&G's "weather normalization adjustment" plan, where the utility raised or lowered people's bills based on undecipherable formulas involving weather trends. The WNA plan for electric consumers was not optional. It raised my bills over a more than two-year period, and was scrapped in December following consumer complaints.
Levelized billing, in contrast, simply averages people's bills to smooth out the ups and downs. Of course, paying less during the high cost periods means paying more during times when bills would otherwise be low.
In my case, levelized billing would shave more than $100 off my most recent bill, but would probably add that much to my bill in May or October, when the weather is wonderful in Charleston.
Berkeley Electric Cooperative, SCE&G, Edisto Electric Cooperative and Santee Cooper all offer levelized billing. Typically, to sign up you must have been a customer for at least 12 months (so that they can figure out your average bill), and you must be current on your power bills.
So, what else can you do to avoid spikes in your power costs for heating and cooling?
Some readers are probably saying wow, David, your highest monthly bill in years was $274? That's not terribly high at all.
Well, if I had not taken steps in recent years to make my home more energy-efficient, my bill would have been over $400. If your bills soar during the peak heating and cooling months, a modest investment in insulating your home and sealing air leaks can pay long-term dividends.
Two of the easiest and least expensive steps you can take, in my experience, are using a programmable thermostat to reduce power demand when you aren't home, and insulating the access door to your attic space, if you have one.
I bought a programmable thermostat for about $50 and installed it myself. When I had insulation added to my attic crawl space, the crew put a simple cover over the access door made of plywood and foam insulation - an afternoon DIY project for those so inclined.
For those who decide to take on more extensive projects, such as having their heating and cooling ducts sealed and replacing heating and cooling equipment, don't forget that many utility companies offer incentives, rebates and in some cases loan programs.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552.