Totally Skewed: My Electric Bill

How to read an electric bill


We stood there, cautiously eyeing the envelope as though it might contain Anthrax.  “You open it,” I said to my husband. 

“No.  You do it.”

“How bad can it be?  We’ve hardly been home for the past several weeks.”

“Okay,” he said, I’ll open it.  He squeezed his eyes tight and counted. “One. Two. Three.  One, two, three.  One-two-three!”  R-r-r-i-p. 

The sealed threat now loosed, Hubby glanced down at the amount due and lapsed catatonic. I waived my hands in front of his face.  No response.  “Hon?”

The paper slipped from his hands and fell to the countertop.  I lifted it and read: Amount due: $697.67. 

This couldn’t be our electric bill!

Perhaps our cat had thrown wild parties while we were out of town.  I glared at Miss Kitty. “Exactly how many friends do you have?” I scolded.

The meter reading had to have been wrong.  “How often do you actually read these things?” I asked a company rep by phone.  She said my power usage was audited hourly from an undisclosed location, sort of like the Nielsen TV ratings.

Apparently, my old electric monitoring device had been replaced with a “smart meter.”  And this high-tech gizmo is so intelligent that it’s capable of outrunning every attempt I’ve made to slow it down.  Clearly, it must not even stop for power outages.

I moved on to my next plan of attack.  “How much have your rates gone up?” I huffed.

“Our rates haven’t changed,” said the customer service rep.  “There’s been an increase in the cost of natural gas to provide the power, and that power adjustment cost is passed straight through to the consumer.” 

I wasn’t moving any closer to a lower bill. 

No one should have electric fees the size of mine unless his or her last name is Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, or Cowell (as in Simon).  This wasn’t a utility charge.  It was a substitute for a tropical vacation, or holiday gifts for my entire family (minus me), or my spouse’s wardrobe budget—for the next decade.

I checked my electric statement, again, attempting to decipher the so-called “energy charge.”  In small print, nowhere near the amount due column, I found a string of numbers preceded by a decimal point (.0526210, to be exact).  As best I could tell, after I’ve paid my bill, this is the amount of money I should have left over.

Next to the obscure percentage were either acronyms or words in Russian.  I wasn’t sure.  

Later on, I discovered that PCRF stands for Power Cost Recovery Factor.  This is the amount of extra money I have to pay the utility company to help offset their rising cost of natural gas.  Well, how do I get a power cost recovery factor added to my wages?  On second thought, that would price my work right out of the market—assuming there is a market for this stuff. 

It seems I’ll just have to make our home more energy efficient. Already I’m following most standard conservation advice.  There’s little left to do, short of tearing down the house and starting over with new construction—ideally the earth-sheltered kind. 

Maybe I should replace all our exterior windows with Hardiplank.  Or I could install one of those wind turbine generators in my backyard.  Hey, it couldn’t look any more unsightly than a cell tower.


I’ve got to do something because I can’t afford to have utility bills that turn my mate into a mental zombie. (That battle already is being lost to televised sports.) And there’s no way we can simultaneously pay for electricity and psychotherapy.  It’s time for a full revolt.


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