How to Contain Rising Electricity Bills

While the big energy story of the century plays out in the Gulf of Mexico, there’s news closer to home that might provide a budget jolt for many consumers: Electricity costs are going up. Some 85 percent of state energy regulators expect the cost of residential electricity to increase next year, according to a recent survey by the Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions.

A growing number of regulators surveyed fear the rate increases will be a financial burden to consumers – and they expect a backlash. More than one-third said consumers would not accept any rate increase at all – up from 23 percent a year ago. Most respondents expect rate increases because of rising environmental costs. The survey comes as Congress debates an energy bill that would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases. (Critics say the bill will raise costs for consumers.)

Here are a few ways to cut your electricity costs:

  • Turn off appliances and electronics when they are not running, and beware the “vampire” drain of electricity from appliances and electronics in “standby mode” — turned off but still plugged into the wall. One study found standby power consumes 5 percent of U.S. electricity and costs $3 billion. It can add up to as much as 10 percent of total power consumption in a household. Plug items into fuse-protected power strips that don’t suck energy from the wall when turned off.

  • Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents, which use roughly one-quarter of the energy and last ten times longer. Yes, they cost a lot more ($5 versus 50 cents), but you can save by buying in bulk from a Web site such as Click here for a neat little calculator that adds up your savings. Compacts also produce about 75 percent less heat, reducing cooling bills. Meanwhile, if you’re replacing appliances, look for the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Energy Star” label.

  • Keep cool with fans this summer. The typical household spends 20 percent of its utility bill on cooling, according to the EPA. Depending on its size, a window unit air conditioner uses five to 14 times the amount of electricity of a floor fan on its highest speed. If you raise your thermostat by just two degrees and use a ceiling fan, you can lower cooling costs by up to 14 percent, according to the EPA. (Ceiling fans cool you, not the room, so turn them off when you leave the room.) Finally, if your central air conditioning unit is more than a dozen years old, consider replacing it with a model that has earned EPA’s Energy Star rating – it could cut your cooling costs by 30 percent.