PG&E Guide to Managing My Smart Meter and Bill

The bright blue brochure arrived in the mail with the caption on the cover announcing that it was my “Checklist for Summer Savings” so naturally I opened it instead of throwing it out with the other junk mail.

The Checklist for Savings included the following:

Since I have already done all these things I am feeling pretty smug.  But I keep reading the brochure to make sure I did not miss any opportunities for savings.

Get to Know your Rates

The State of California has adopted policies to encourage energy conservation.  One way they do that is by using a tiered rate structure so that the more energy you use the more each incremental unit costs. Recently, PG&E proposed a simplified version of the tiered pricing plan for residential (E1) customers combining tiers 4 and 5.  So the current tiered rate structure is:

  • Tier 1: 12 cents per kWh
  • Tier 2: 14 cents per kWh
  • Tier 3: 29 cents per kWh
  • Tiers 4 & 5: 40 cents per kWh.

For those of us who live on the ‘warm side of the hills’ there is a powerful but impossible to achieve incentive to stay in tier 2 if at all possible.  The baseline amount that kicks off this race through the tiers as summer temps increase is average of your use over the previous year weather normalized.  We do all we can to avoid turning on our air conditioning until we must in the late afternoon and then pray for fog to cool things down as the sun sets.  Most of the time that works—prayer that is!

What difference does it make?  Well my new PG&E brochure uses ‘parables’ to drive the point home.

The parable of the load of laundry:

A frugal PG&E customer did a load of laundry off-peak in tier one and the cost was a mere 24 cents per load.  But a normal PG&E customer who wants to multitask might come home from work and put a load of laundry in the washer while preparing dinner.  This is going to be a VERY expensive dinner since that load of laundry done on-peak in Tier 4 is going to cost 80 cents per load instead of the frugal customer’s 24 cents per load—three times the price!

The lesson to this parable is that managing energy use not only saves money but by using less you stay in a lower tier.

Use Energy Alerts to Control Your Bill

Getting energy alerts on your cell phone or pager won’t reduce your energy bill until you do something about it.  Here is where your smart meter can help you.  The meter measures energy use every ten minutes so it provides a useful way of knowing when you use electricity or natural gas.  By using that information to assess when your usage moves you into a higher tier you can take action to cut use and save money.

Sounds easy right?

The brochure tells me how to go to the PG&E website and log into my customer account.  There I can view my usage, review my bill and get the information I need to be a better energy consumer.

So I check out my PG&E account and discover my smart meter readings and see the patterns of my energy use.  In my case, it tells me what I already know.  I use more electricity when the A/C kicks on in the afternoon, and I use more natural gas when I kick on the hot tub in the evening.

I can control these things but not without a fight with my wife who wants to be cool in the afternoon and bubblingly warm in the hot tub at night.  Being a good husband who has learned the hard way over 36 years of marriage that ‘the opinions of the husband do NOT necessarily represent those of management’—I do what my wife wants even if it costs me a little more on my PG&E bill.

Now I’ve discovered that I can set my own energy alerts on my cell phone.  One reminds me that I can hit the thermostat program over-ride button to stop the A/C from kicking on if my wife is going to be working later or going out shopping AND I set a separate reminder to turn on the dang hot tub later that evening so it is ready.

Even Out Your bill with Balanced Payment Plan

The smart meter guys hate this feature but it is every ratepayer’s friend.  Budget plans have been around for years.  They levelize your monthly bills so there are no surprises. Level billing averages your annual energy costs over 12 months.  Every quarter the average is adjusted based upon the last 12 months to keep it trued-up.  This avoids the rate spikes which caused so many problems in Bakersfield for PG&E customers.  But it also masks the true cost of energy and undermines the tiered pricing impacts of giving customers true price signals for what their energy use costs.

But make no mistake about it—level billing is your friend!