Word to the wise: Brace yourself before opening this month’s electric bill.
With Californians spending more time at home and working remotely during the pandemic, household appliances are sucking up way more energy than usual. Couple that with a few wicked heat waves, and you’ve got a recipe for some shocking electric bills.
“It’s worse than I thought,” said Vanessa Solis, whose most recent Sacramento Municipal Utility District bill was $367 — more than double her bill from last July. “I can feel the anxiety escalating at the thought of having to pay this.”
SMUD says energy usage in July was up 3% among residential customers compared to last year. The utility also raised its rates by 3% in January, in part to offset wildfire mitigation costs and increase system capacity.
Spokesperson Christopher Capra says it’s hard to pinpoint one reason for bills going up since there are many factors to consider, such as residence square footage, HVAC efficiency and customer habits.
“People working from home more often can certainly cause power usage to rise,” he said. “Continued high temperatures in July are also a factor.
Some bosses say their workers are starting to feel it.
“The fact that everyone has had to have their A/C cranking during the workdays has become a common issue for all of the staff working from home,” said Patrick Pulupa, executive officer of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Nearly all of the board’s 270 staff members began working from home in March.
SMUD says there are things customers can do to reduce their energy bills. The utility recommends keeping household temperatures at 78 degrees or higher during the summer. It also encourages customers to be conscious of the utility’s tiered rate system and to reduce appliance use during “peak hours” when electricity is most expensive.
SMUD has also halted shutting off power through January 4, 2021 for those who can’t pay their bills. The utility encourages those customers to set up a repayment schedule with the utility.
Customers with other utilities say their bills have spiked, too.
Mark Kewman, a Pacific Gas and Electric customer, said his July bill was $434, nearly $100 more compared to last year.
“My house is less than 1,000 square feet,” he said. “What do people with bigger houses do?”
PG&E spokesperson Katie Allen says the utility offers reduced rates for people who are low-income and have trouble paying their bills. Those programs have seen an increase in enrollment during the pandemic. The Family Electric Rate Assistance program, for example, saw enrollment increase from just over 21,000 last May to more than 31,000 this May.
The utility has also halted power shutoffs for nonpayment of bills during the pandemic.
Some state lawmakers have acknowledged the impact of remote work on families’ bottom lines. A bill introduced in recent weeks would have reimbursed internet, telephone and energy costs for employees who worked from home.
The bill has since been pulled by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, with the intention of reintroducing a similar bill next legislative session.
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