BG & E – you can kiss my gasstove

Story by Amber Woods in Baltimore
There’s really no nice way to say this: Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) is robbing me freaking blind.
I live in a one story, two bedroom, brick house that was built in the late 1940’s. It’s less than 1,500 square feet and has been recently renovated (and better insulated.)
I keep the heat at average temperatures-never above 63 or 64 degrees. This month, my electric bill was $560.
Last month it was more than $500 also.
So BGE: What’s is the deal?
If you’ve ever received one of these “you’ve got to be kidding me” bills from BGE (and I understand many people have) then like myself, you probably called and asked for an explanation. And like myself, you were probably thinking it’s not possible that you used that much energy in one month.
And if your experience was anything like mine, the customer service representative gave you some seemingly rehearsed line about how it’s “normal” to see your bill double during the coldest time in the winter.
OK, let me start by saying my bill was around $120 per month this fall. So more than $500 is more than double, right?
Here’s the thing: I’m not buying it.
No really. I’m literally not buying it.
I’ve turned my heat way down (just warm enough so the pipes don’t freeze) and I’m using minimal lights. I cranked up the wood-burning fireplace for the very first time since I moved in (I’m actually huddled up next to it typing this column in fingerless gloves) and I’m going to be journaling my experience every day this month.
That means I’m tracking how many lights, what temperature the thermostats are set, and every other detail about energy I consume for the next 30 days.
I’ve decided if BGE has a monopoly over this part of the east coast, and my options are to either pay them half of a mortgage payment each month or live like the Amish-well, I’ll go with the latter.
I understand the price of oil is expensive, but it’s no wonder people are going green and looking for self sustaining options.
In an effort to save my retirement fund (and even my house from foreclosure at this point) I’m going to be doubling up on socks and waiting out this next month to see if BGE is possibly “estimating” my usage, as they’re automated call system claims, or if there is an alternative way to get energy.
I’m open to your suggestions, and I already have friends who are considering their own green options.
So what do you think it’s going to take? Solar panels? Wind mills? What do we need to construct in Havre de Grace (and around the country) in order to show BGE and other monopoly energy suppliers that we won’t tolerate being taken advantage of?

Originally published on havredegrace.patch.com

21 Responses

  1. Your problem isn’t BGE, its an uninsulated house. Im lucky enough to have gas heat. I keep a crab pot heating on my stovetop 24/7. My 3500 square foot house stays 74 degrees Farenheit at a cost of $90 a month in December. E-mail me for all my tips.

  2. also, since you’re now using a fireplace that hasn’t been used in ages, be sure you have a professional chimney sweep clean and inspect your fireplace liner/chimney so your home doesn’t catch on fire!

  3. This is what we are billed each month by Florida Power and light
    Electric service amount
    Storm charge
    Gross receipts tax
    Franchise charge
    Utility tax
    Actual electric charges
    FPL budget billing charges
    FPLES Power surge protection
    (First 1000 kWh
    (Over 1000 kwh
    (First 1000 kwh
    (Over 1000 kwh
    Most of the time the extras are over $100

  4. Amber, I share your angst. My house was built in ’51, but has since been upgraded with new windows, insulation, etc. I have AmerenUE here, and my parents, who have a home 38 years newer and twice as big pay half as much with a Co-op about 10 miles away.

    I feel that we don’t have a say when it comes to this stuff, frankly. They have big money, lobbyists and those who represent us are easily swayed by the smokescreens of so-called “green” programs that these companies show off. Do any of us see any results from these green programs. Nope. Just rate increases to fund it. Sigh.

  5. MACGYVER, I’m not sure about your math. If one “unplugged” for one day a month (using, at best, 0 watts of home energy that day), it would seem to be me that your savings would be more like 3.3% (unless you were unplugging on the one day of the month you happened to be using that 15% of your monthly energy bill). Now if you happen to have a $450/month electricity bill I could see how the savings would be 15 DOLLARS…

    By the way, I checked the site at your link and couldn’t easily find detail on what you mentioned. The site also seems to be dormant for lack of funding.

  6. elnav: Thanks for researching this for me. Unfortunately, I live outside of Baltimore City so my options are limited to BG&E…otherwise known as highway robbery. I’m going amish.

  7. Amber I just spoke to a friend who lives in Baltimore. As it happens he has two billing locations. One being billed by BGE and he cconfirms that utility does indeed charge way more than the other called PEGO or something like that. His house is only billed at 11 or 13 cents per kilowatt. The other is billed by BGE at way more. Since utility feeds and gas piping effectively gives them a captive market and a monopoly; your only option is to move to some part of town not supplied by BGE. Or as you say go Amish. Insulation and energy upgrades can only go so far in reducing energy bills.

  8. We are essentially in the same situation. We lst our house to the bank last year and now live in a mobile. friends tipped us of not to allow gas heating. Instead they suggested the infra red radiant heater. With this we can heat only those areas where we currently occupy space. Cnsequently we have lowered our electrical use. I have a Kill-a-Watt meter with which I audit energy consumption. The only problem we created was freezing of the interior water pipe when outside temperatures drop below -20F and it sometimes get to -35 F for a week or so one end. Naturally this does increase demand for heat compared to Baltimore. I have friends there and we compare notes on weather on a weekly basis. wish we had a wood heat stove. Our old house did and we could cut free fire wood as much as we needed.

  9. There are several aftermarket devices you can attach to your electric meter that will record exactly what you’ve used in order to show you your consumption. You could use this information to audit your electric bill to see if you’re being charged more than you should be. I’d like to see us all start a movement of unplugging from the grid for one day a week and going to a friend/family home. That would save most people 15% per month and would drive demand down. Of course, you’d have to keep minimum power on, but it would still make a big difference. Here’s the idea: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/greenoneday/greenoneday-unplugging-for-planet-earth?ref=live

  10. It seems that the most adequate solution is to go for radical energy efficiency, to get high comfort and at the same time get less dependent on energy delivery (you know big dirty oil), and live more environmentally friendly. When it is done, it is low energy demand for ever:
    a very nice solution is a “passive house”. The concept is getting more competent people in the US, and the early movers con probably get subsidizes. Good luck

  11. Amber, there are a few things you can do:
    1. Start reading your meters and recording the readings every day till the next bill comes around.
    2. Try to find the bills from a year ago and compare the consumption.
    3. Go to https://www.bgesmartenergy.com/residential/quick-home-energy-check
    4. The ideal solution would be to improve the insulation of the home (including windows) and then install a ground source heat pump.
    Hopefully this information helps you.

  12. Amber I sympathize with your situation. I ran into the same problem you have. I went our and bought a watt meter that you can plug an appliance into and find out just how many kilowatts you are using.

    Part of the problem is your kilowatt usage is only part of the bill. There is three parts that makeup your utility bill.
    1. Kilowatt usage, yes it determines exactly what you used during the month
    2. Rate demand factor, the city is charged a rate demand which is the cost of providing enough equipment to provide the peak demand for your area.
    3. Fuel adjustment cost. Your bill is based on a certain price for fuel to produce your electricity. When that cost for fuel goes up and in winter time it does go up you are charged an additional fee for you electricity.

    So yes you can save by cutting back on your usage but you will be paying more for each kilowatt hour that is used so even cutting back you can still pay a higher bill.

    One quick way to help on kilowatt usage is be sure computers, TV’s, chargers and other standby devices are unplugged. After my review I fond out the freezer, ice box, computer, satellite system and standby devices were my main usage items. That sound like I just named every appliance in the house but the list is quite long.

    Lighting turned out to be the lowest in the house. I had already switched to energy efficient lighting before I did the audit.

    Hope this help shed a light on your problem. If you have any questions please let me know.

    Good Luck

  13. Hey Amanda,

    WOW, that is a huge bill. It looks like you are already keeping track of the lights and anything electric you are using. You have to understand watts of the electric equipment in your house in order to determine exact kwh being used. I recently wrote a blog post about how to calculate watts and determine your kwh, https://tinyurl.com/Watts-a-Watt , that may be helpful to you. Electric heat uses a lot of wattage so I would be suspicious of that if your bill is so much higher in the winter. The meter is seldom incorrect and homeowners are left with making changes on their own that will lower their energy costs.
    A home built in the 40’s would be a strong candidate for updated windows, insulation, lighting and heating. An energy audit would be a good investment. In my area they are around $195.
    We audit lighting in commercial and industrial facilities and often find a great deal of savings. Improvements typically pay for themselves in less than a year or two, depending on the cost of the upgrade.
    There are many incentive programs out there for upgrades, check out http://www.dsireusa.org. This is a complete listing of all incentives available to you in your area.
    Don’t be afraid to call your utility and ask for help. They are working to reduce the demand on the grid, so they will be willing to help you out.

    Good Luck to you!!

  14. Hi all:
    Thanks for taking time to read, and your input. I called BGE and read them both my gas and electric meter, which they claim are accurate. I’m revolting still (sitting in the floor next to the fire as I write this) and looking for more sustainable options. I’m considering an energy audit next…but on a larger scale, there is a better way to live. More on that later. I’ll be writing a follow up for Nick.

  15. Re Michel’s comment. It is very unlikely that a single family, single phase, unit would have a demand charge in Baltimore. Demand charges are common on commercial and industrial bills. The demand charge is based on your maximum demand ( usage) in any hour of a month. It apportions the amount of generating capacity you may need at any one time. It is a separate charge above the charge per KWH ( kilowatts, 1000 watts, per hour. In my area 11 cents )
    Residential accounts usually have a line charge and a charge for each KWH that you use each month.
    Some utilities charge by when you use the power, or, time of day pricing. Only if you have time of day metering would when you use the electricity make any difference.

  16. check to see if you are charged per kilowatt hour, if so it goes by how much you use at once in kilowatt hour, so run large appliances at seperate times if that is the case. You will save a lot.

  17. I applaud your efforts. Have you considered purchasing a Infra-Red Heater? I’ve read great reviews on them. EdenPure is a popular brand, but I’ve seen them at the big home improvement stores for about $100 cheaper (Prices I’ve seen hover around $150.)

    They supposedly do a great job heating a large area and use very little electricity. I’d do more research before buying, but it could be a great alternative. Heck, with your gas prices, it might pay for itself in a month!

    Just a thought.

    -Troy Roark

  18. Amber if you were living in an apt building you might not be aware of is the your electricty meter might be paying for lights in the hallway and heating as well. This is clearly not the case. What does your power meter read between each bill, and have you cross referenced it each month? How does your bill compare to the neighbours of similar sized homes? Have you put clear plastic over the windows? What are they charging per KW? 500$ is very high! Now are they charging different prices during different hours? I know we do no laundry until after 8pm, and preferably after 10pm. We hang up most clothing when we have the time to avoid the use of the dryer. How do your bills compare to last year in cost and in actual usage?

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