Watching the meter spin

 

Last updated 3/5/2024 at 9:25am



By now you will have received your first electric bill of the year, the one with the 5–7 percent rate increase announced by CEC (Central Electric Cooperative) at the end of last year. That was a hefty bump which CEC attributes to higher costs from its source — Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) — and “surging” inflation of equipment and supplies used to deliver power.

Since 2019, CEC has seen the cost of a power pole rise by 35 percent, overhead power cables by 45 percent, underground power cables by 79 percent, and a single-phase (residential) transformer by almost 100 percent. If ordering the equipment today, the price tag would likely be higher upon receipt of the materials due to the 15-month supply chain delays.

BPA markets wholesale electrical power from 31 federal dams in the Northwest that are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. Hydropower is one of the lowest-cost sources of electricity, and Oregon as a whole has some of the lowest energy prices in the nation. At 11.02 cents/kWh (kilowatt hour), it is a bargain compared to neighboring California at 19.90 cents/kWh.

Washington State at 9.79 cents/kWh is lowest in the U.S. except for Louisiana at 9.37 cents. Energy-rich Alaska comes in at 22.54 cents, which pales to Hawaii’s rate of 32.76 cents.

That our rates are comparatively low doesn’t take the sting out of your monthly bill increasing $10-$15 per month at the same time home and car insurance is up 15-20 percent and the price of a burger at Sisters eateries is $15 plus.

According to Marketplace Newsletter, since February of 2020, beef has become about 30 percent more expensive. That’s a major increase, but it’s not much different from other meats.

The price of chicken, which didn’t increase at all last year, is still 45 percent more expensive than it was pre-pandemic. Pork chops, whose price barely budged last year, are still 27 percent more expensive than they were in early 2020. And eggs, despite being the MVP of price drops in 2023 (prices down more than 22 percent) saw the biggest jump of all. A dozen eggs are nearly 50 percent more expensive than they were pre-pandemic.

Eggs, of course, are an exceptional case: There was an avian flu that killed millions of birds, but major price jumps have hit every aisle in the grocery store. Food prices overall have risen about 25 percent since COVID hit.

The biggest item on your electric bill is heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. It’s half to two-thirds for most families. And the easiest to reduce in cost. Lower the thermostat in the winter 2–3 degrees and reciprocally add 2–3 degrees in the summer and just like that the rate increase evaporates.

The second biggest item on your bill for most households is the “Always On” category. What’s that, you ask? The clock on the stove or microwave, the battery power tool or handy vac plugged into the charger, even your TV or computer. Your computer or monitor may be asleep, but not off, most of the time.

In the sleep mode it’s using power, just not as much. Experts say you should turn off your computer or restart it every day anyway. This will blow out what they call digital dust that affects its performance. And save electricity.

Don’t expect power rates to peak any time soon. Pacific Power, with 574,000 customers in Oregon, has asked the Oregon Public Utility Commission to approve a 16.9 percent residential rate hike, effective for 2025. The company projects that would raise the average bill of residential customers by about $30 per month.

The electric company says it’s trying to raise $304 million to pay for renewable power sources and invest in upgrades to the grid, and also to pay for costs associated with wildfires.

Wildfire expenses would include managing vegetation around power lines, as well as paying higher wildfire-insurance premiums and creating what the company calls a “catastrophic fire fund.”

Reading an electric bill in detail is boring but informative. There’s the customer charge, distribution energy charge, transmission charge, and more. You can’t do much, if anything, about the rate you pay, but you can be in control of how much you use.

 

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