Shared from the 10/15/2018 The Sacramento Bee eEdition

SMUD rate change will likely mean jump in summer bill


Sacramento County residents are about to be hit with an electric shock.

The average electricity bill likely will jump next summer — 16 percent alone in July — under new pricing the Sacramento Municipal Utility District began rolling out this month.

The “time of day” system means higher rates for energy use on weekdays between 5 and 8 p.m. and lower rates at other times. Winter rates overall will be lower than in the summer.

Residential customers will switch to the new system in groups between now and May. SMUD will alert each group a month in advance.

SMUD officials say their goal is to encourage conservation between 5 and 8 p.m when family members come home from work, turn up the AC, television and kitchen appliances. That could lead to overall energy savings among Sacramento residents.

Officials say they believe people will change their habits and, as a result, customers’ annual electricity bills should be unchanged under the new system.

But what if people don’t cut back? A SMUD analysis forecasts that 57 percent of residential users will then face a higher annual bill.

That 57 percent is broken into two groups: 49 percent who will pay less than $5 extra per month, and 8 percent who will pay more than $5 a month.

SMUD officials say the new system is revenue neutral, meaning that ratepayers overall should end up paying the same annually as they do under the current system because of lower winter rates.

But many ratepayers will be hit with price shock during summer months, including a price spike in July with an average bill of $163. That’s if they don’t change their ways.

“The decision is theirs,” SMUD pricing supervisor Alcides Hernandez said.

SMUD data shows the utility can tap plenty of solar power during the day. That power wanes in the evening toward sunset when people are using more energy. SMUD must then go on the energy market to buy electricity from natural gas plant operators. That energy is more expensive, in part because of the cost of ramping those plants up and down in the evening.

So, the big question is: What can residential ratepayers do to lower their electricity bills?

It’s about shifting electricity use to other hours, before 5 p.m. or after 8 p.m. That requires knowing how much electricity each of your major electrical appliances use.

The SMUD website has guidance on how customers can reduce their bills. It often means changing long-held practices, and living a less convenient lifestyle.

For instance, SMUD advises customers in summer to try pre-cooling their homes before 5 p.m. Then, they should either turn the thermostat up or off until rates drop at 8 p.m.

SMUD also suggests customers with electric appliances go old-school more frequently: Hang your clothes on a line in the backyard and do some cooking on an outdoor grill rather than an electric stove top or oven.

The agency also suggests users sign up online to monitor their usage.

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