Life on the PG&E Budget Plan

I long ago networked my home PCs and MACs and each new one seems to relegate the older ones to back up duty as storage or other uses. And with three college-age kids they all needed laptops.  Then they went away to school and it was blissfully quiet, and then they trickled back from college and brought their laptops—and stayed for a while.

My wife turned over her iMac and Mac laptop to our movie maker son who needed them for video editing, and we bought her a new laptop–a PC with Vista!  Jeez!  I will never get out of the doghouse for that one!  So I made up for it by buying her a new IPod touch, but she kissed my cheek and told me it was a “nice try” but not sufficient!  After 35 years of marriage, women have a way of cutting to the chase.  Yes, she got a new laptop she wanted!  I’ve learned a few things after 35 yrs.

I’ve invested in new TVs with each one seemingly flatter, brighter, bigger and screwed to some wall instead of dominating the floor space. So now we can, literally, go from room to room and never miss anything on TV.  Except I like to watch Fox News and she hates that—so I generally watch Fox news in my home office.  And, of course, with new HD TVs we had to have Comcast HD service and a new settop boxes.  We have Wii, Nintendo, PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and now PlayStation 3 which even doubles as a Blu-Ray player. In short, technology comes but the old stuff never seems to go around my house.

No wonder my electricity bill to PG&E is so high.

But my utility is here to serve me—right?  That’s why they recently installed a Silver Spring Network smart meter on both my electric service and natural gas service—so I can see how much money I am spending every 15 minutes instead of once a month when it is time to pay up.

But soon I will face another decision.  What will I do with all the information my smart meter wants to give me?  For a while, at least, the answer is nothing since even though PG&E has a very progressive tiered rate system it has not required me to go to time of use pricing.

When that happens I will need to go see my doctor for blood pressure meds I’m sure, because, it’s not PG&E that is out to get me it is the convergence of my family’s electronic appetites and my politicians lust for everything green and detest for all black fuels even though they are cheaper that will get me.

Now when someone in my family says, we need a bigger TV for the family room I can say “not today.”  But when my politicians say to PG&E you MUST buy more renewable energy AND YOU MUST PAY MORE FOR IT THAN MARKET RATES so the renewable energy company will build more of it and PG&E says “YES SIR!” and passes the higher cost along to me, I don’t have the option of saving “not today, thank you.”

Except wait, maybe I do!  My option is to use less.  So I became worse than my own father was when I was a kid about grousing about turning off lights and other electric gear when not needed.  It got so bad that my family declared the need for an intervention so my wife takes me by the hand and says “we need to have a talk”.  Oh Crap!  I have heard that before and it never turned out well for me.  She says in that calm teacher voice that makes me want to jerk my hand back before the ruler strikes. (NO, they don’t do that now but they did when I went to school!)

“You have grouched around about turning things off for more than two months and what good has it done?” Then she whipped out two PG&E bills and said look at the bill!  So I did, and BEHOLD we used less kWh in the second month than the first.  SEE! I said we used less energy!

“Yes, dear,” she replies “but how much did we pay?”

Oh, oh!  Busted!

We paid the same!  Why because despite all the new gear, new rules, new rates, and loud rants we were still on a “budget plan” which averages our bill over the year so the amount paid was exactly the same $682.00 each month!

No surprises!

“Yes but we used less energy and that is good,” I protested.  “And can you imagine what we’d save if we reduced our consumption to Tier 3 instead of Tier 4 rates, I argued. Instead, I got “THE LOOK”—you know that look!  It says plainly: you are on thin ice, buster, so consider your next smart remark carefully!

“ But we paid the same and what you saved in energy just went back to PG&E to sell again—and trust me at these rates they do not need the money!” says my sweet wife.

So there you have it, we are at the Rubicon for electricity rates.  The last mile problem for HAN will be that the drivers for going to the trouble of setting it up all focus on entertainment and the hassles are all associated with energy.  So being Pavlovian, we entertain ourselves now and live foolishly on the “budget plan” while our politicians get way with piling up the cost of our energy future until someday it breaks our bank and our backs from its crushing weight.

The result is there are going to be surprises—big surprises in our rates as the full cost of my politicians aspirations pile up on my energy bill.  The next time by budget plan resets it will inch up and again, and again and again!

We think renewable energy is good for the planet, and it is!  We think clean and green and efficient is being socially responsible—and it is.  But we’re are being under-told the truth about what these policies are costing us and over-sold the benefits in political rhetoric never subjected to the cold hard competitive market place. Subsidies, production tax credits, investment tax credits, feed-in tariff costs are not free and they may not be economic, and sooner than later the sum of these costs will make our energy bills unaffordable.

The way state RPS policies, emissions reduction policies, tax credits, and the requirement that my utility pay more than market rates for the clean energy it sells me add up soon I’ll need to turn into the “grouch” again and try to use less.  My only hope is to use less, much less, and to stay on my level billing budget plan for as long as I can.

There is one more thing I can do which is my secret plan for success—get the rest of my kids to move out and pay their own PG&E bills!  I’ll even donate electronics gear to get them started including all the old PCs and MACs they want to take with them except, I am getting fond of that PS3 blue-ray feature—and Call of Duty!