The people of Claremore have expressed concern, time and time again, about the high cost of electricity within city limits.
Claremore Lineman David White, with more than 10 years of experience, Director of Electric and Utilities for the City of Claremore Larry Hughes, with nearly 20 years of experience, and John McComb, a mostly-retired electrical engineer with 40 years in the industry and special expertise at assessing power performance, discussed everything that goes into your electric bill, and how you can lower it.
In part two of this report, industry professionals give advice for how to make a significant change in your electric bill by getting a free consultation, making a payment plan and getting all your questions answered.
“This is a free service that John and I do,” White said. “If [customers] suddenly have a high bill, we can help them figure out what caused it. If they have a normal bill but want to lower it, John is great at pointing if you need more insulation or new windows.”
When they get called out for a performance test, White and McComb bring one of three sizes of meters, for residential customers; commercial and industrial customers; and for power lines and transformers.
The meter is clipped directly behind the smart meter, so it sees all of the electricity that went into the house.
In a one-minute window, the meter gives the electrician readings for the highest cycle usage (one cycle equals 16-thousandths of a second), the lowest cycle and the average of all 918,000 cycles in that minute.
From there, the electrician can use the corresponding computer and software to graph the data collected by the meter and create an easy-to-read report.
It’s easy to read for an electrician who knows what they are looking at, anyway.
“One of the things these gentlemen do with these devices is that they are able to go into the house and help explain what is consuming electricity,” Hughes said. “It’s an educational tool.”
In most cases, the meters simply reveal in what rooms parasitic waste is taking place.
However, White said, a consultation doesn’t work without assistance from the customer “because a customer knows more than we do about what is going on in their home.”
“We need the assistance of the customers to be very thoughtful about what they are doing, especially when we are searching for what is using electric,” Hughes said. “We’re not in your house. We don’t know if you’ve got four kids opening the refrigerator 800 times in an hour.”
Hughes said, “If the customer doesn’t participate, there is nothing we can do.”
On occasion, evaluations have found major problems in people’s homes.
In one example, a couple bought a house in 2017 that the previous owner sold because of high electricity bills. The average monthly electricity bill, meaning just the electricity portion of the utility bill, was more than $500 a month on a 2,300-square-foot house.
They called the electric department to come evaluate their house. McComb set up the second meter for a week and had the homeowner keep a record of their own electricity usage during that week.
From the reading at the end of the week, McComb found that a large appliance, using both electricity channels in the wiring, was kicking on more than 25 times in a six-hour period and using nearly 5 kilowatts of power each time it kicked on.
From experience, he was able to trace it to the water heater, which was cycling five times an hour as opposed to once a day. By replacing the water heater, their average electricity bill was cut in half.
“They had a device that was just burning electric,” McComb said.
In another instance, White and McComb were assessing a home and found that the heater and air conditioner would both kick on and run at the same time regardless of how the thermostat was set, so they were competing against each other.
“The customer is not going to know that,” White said.
Because the meters keep records, they can record big spikes in usage that can be used to assess the issue by asking the homeowner what happened at that day and time.
“It’s a small percentage where we actually find problems, but we do find them,” McComb said. “The fun part is finding a problem, showing the person, helping them fix it and getting their bill back where it belongs.”
“For the rest of the customers, it’s really an education of how your electric works, what we recommend the thermostats be set at in summer and winter, and understanding that in the summertime your bill is going to go up,” McComb said.
Each of the men clarified that their goal is only to inform the customer of their usage. Each customer’s bill doesn’t really matter to them.
“We’re here for people. We are here to help us much as we can,” Hughes said.
“I do what I do to help customers,” McComb said, explaining why he comes in to assist Claremore Electric two days a week in his retirement. “It’s a free service to help people. All we’re doing is trying to make people happy.”
“I don’t care what your bill is. I don’t care if it is high. I don’t care if it is low. It makes no difference to me,” White said. “We don’t get a raise just because somebody uses more power.”
Claremore Electric assists around 12,200 customers, so if you want help with your home, ask for it.
“You’ll only find the services we provide in the largest utilities in America,” McComb said. “Other communities and co-ops don’t have a power quality engineer or the type of meter needed to really go out and help customers. That is a very specialized thing we have here.”
This free consultation is also available for the city’s commercial and industrial customers.
To schedule a performance consultation, call the Claremore electric department at 918-341-2895.
Make a Payment Plan
Right now, the city of Claremore offers two payment options for residential users.
All bills are based on usage, but you can choose to pay your exact usage for the month or do budget billing, which averages out your usage for the year and you pay the same amount every month.
The usage rate is standard, but residential customers can opt in to budget billing.
To change your payment plan, call the billing department at 918-341-0456.
The city of Claremore is currently undergoing a cost of service and rate design study, as reported Thursday.
The results of the study will allow Claremore Electric to reconsider its rate structure and provide more options for residential, commercial and industrial customers, such as pre-pay and power hour.
“In today’s society, one of the most important things is options,” Hughes said. “It may not be happening as quickly as we would like, but we are taking steps in that direction.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: “I was out of town for three weeks and my bill didn’t go down. What happened?”
A: Heat and air are the biggest portion of your bill. Change your thermostat before you leave to be closer to the outside temperature. In the winter months, keep your thermostat at 60, just warm enough to keep your pipes from freezing. In the summer months, keep your thermostat at 78 or 80 to limit how frequently your air conditioner kicks on to cool an empty house. Also, turn off your electric water heater and unplug devices.
Q: “We were told that with the smart meters we would be able to see our real-time usage online. When will that happen?”
A: The smart meters do measure and record real-time usage. However, GE is still developing software to reliably upload that information and translate it so that the average consumer can read and understand it in real time. Some of that capability already exists. They are waiting to have the capability to deploy to all houses before they deploy to any of them.
Q: “My friend’s house is larger than mine, but their electric bill is lower than mine. What’s going on there?”
A: It depends. There are many, many reasons why your electricity bill may be high. Have someone from the Claremore electricity department perform a free performance assessment of your home and see if you can find a solution that works well for you and your family.
Q: “I read somewhere that smart meters pick the largest point of usage and then average that out across the month. Is that true?”
A: It’s true that the smart meter does read the peak demand, but Claremore Electric does not bill residential customers for demand. Large-use commercial and industrial customers do get billed for demand because they run incredibly high usage for short periods of time throughout the day, not for whole hours. Therefore, the cost of that power demand from the city would not be accurately captured by kilowatt hours.
Q: “Is my smart meter misreading my electricity?”
A: Most likely not. The consultation checks for that and has found the smart meters to be 99.9 percent accurate. There could be some weird malfunction. The weeklong electricity performance test would determine whether or your smart meter was having any issues.