Part One: How to take charge of your electric bill

The cost of electricity is a perennial issue in Claremore. From crowded city hall meetings to a public call for an audit, the sound of someone complaining about their electric bill is nearly as frequent as a train whistle.

Claremore Lineman David White, with more than 10 years of experience, Director of Electric and Utilities 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.

“Education is truly the biggest hurdle,” Hughes said. ‘To make any significant change in your bill month-to-month, it’s important to understand your bill and usage, fix inefficiencies, get a free consultation, make a payment plan and get all your questions answered.

Understand your Bill and Usage

The first and biggest issue when it comes to reading your bill, Hughes said, is recognizing that Claremore issues one utility bill, that includes electricity, among other utilities.

“People lose sight that it is a utility bill. It’s electric, it’s water, it’s sewer, it’s stormwater, it’s sanitation. Especially for the 8,800 within the city,” Hughes said. A little over 3,000 people outside city limits have an electricity bill only, but they pay other providers for trash and rural water service.

“People will compare the Claremore utility bill to somebody else’s electric bill,” McComb said. “That’s apples and oranges.”

McComb said it is also important to understand that increases in your bill are not related to increases in rates, but in usage.

The Claremore electricity rate has remained at $0.122 per kilowatt/hour since 2009, even with three rate increases from GRDA.

“We have not passed that on to the customer,” Hughes said, because Claremore Electric has implemented infrastructure efficiencies that made up for the cost. Since 2009, the electric department has managed to save 5.5 percent of the electricity that would have been lost due to infrastructure issues. “We take pride in making those efficiencies as much as possible.”

“Generally if you get a rate increase from your power provider, you pass that on to your customer,” Hughes said. “We’ve been able to battle that.”

Hughes compared Claremores rate to AEP/PSO, Verdigris Valley, Rural Electric Co-op, Skiatook, Miami and Pryor.

Claremore was second highest after Miami, at $0.125.

Pryor was the lowest at $0.096.

The others were between $0.111 and $0.117.

“What people lose sight of is that AEP, Verdigris Valley, REC, those people don’t pay for public safety. They don’t put money into the beautiful streetlights and stuff that we have in our town. That strictly goes into their electric world,” Hughes said. “You can visually see the difference in the towns that have their own electric companies and those that do not, because they are able to afford nice things and public safety.”

What’s more, White said, is that those other entities often have additional fees and costs that they don’t include in the initial rate.

For example, a business owner with businesses in Owasso and Claremore had a lower electricity rate in Owasso, but a lower electricity bill in Claremore.

Hughes also conducted a study of several electricity bills from those local providers and divided the total bill by the kilowatt hours to get a truer sense of where Claremore compared to other providers. In that comparison, Claremore was near the center of the pack.

Claremore’s customer charge is $13.50, but Verdigris Valley is $35.

“Their kilowatt/hour cost is lower than ours, but you have to use 1,400 kilowatt/hours before the two graphs cross,” McComb said. “We’re actually cheaper for the first 1,400 kilowatt/hours because you’ve got a $20 difference in customer charges that you’ve got to make up for.”

“What’s more important? What they say the rate is, or what your bill is?” Hughes asked. “Yes our rates are higher, because we’ve got that stuff built into ours.”

Hughes said, more than just the cost, the benefit of how Claremore Electric does business is, “The customers own us. That is the big plus of a public power. You truly own the electric company.”

Fix Inefficiencies

Ceiling insulation and windows are the number one and the number two causes of energy efficiency in almost everybody’s home, the men agreed.

“The most common thing we see is somebody in an older home that doesn’t have good insulation or windows, and they are keeping it too cold in the summer or too hot in the winter,” White said.

Insulation that was installed in a home 30 years ago has likely compressed due to gravity and definitely does not meet the latest government recommendations for regulating the temperature of your home.

Windows and sealing now exist in a variety of qualities that were not always available, providing homeowners with several options.

“A lot of people aren’t realistic about what they set their thermostats at,” White said. “They’ll keep it at 76 in the winter time and in the summer they’ll keep it 66. When you combine that with poor insulation, just a few degrees change is a big difference on your bill.”

Giving a crash course in thermodynamics, McComb said, “The difference between the outside temperature and the inside temperature is how fast you lose heat. The colder it gets out, if you can lower your inside temperature and wear a sweater, you’ll save a lot on electric.”

It’s also important to consider your parasitic usage, that is, those appliances that are using electricity even when they are not in use.

“Everything you have plugged in, all your chargers, your modem, every place you see a light when you walk through your house at night … that is using electricity,” McComb said. “All those parasitic loads add up.”

McComb said that the average parasitic load is close to 500 watts in a hour, and does not include what electricity is actively used by those in the household. That isn’t much. But added up over 730 hours in a month, “that's $40 of your electric bill that was used up while you were asleep and at work.”

“We’ve seen other customers that have 2,000 watts of parasitic load,” McCombs said. “They are using $80-$90 worth of electricity even before they turn the lights on.”

If you want a lower bill, McComb said, it’s important to be conscious of what’s plugged in and where you are using power even when you aren’t actively using it.

“If you’ve got a big home entertainment center that you never use, unplug it or put it on a power strip and turn it off,” McComb said.

Coffee pots, pool pumps, microwaves, space heaters. All of those things add up, even when they’re not in use.

“More people use more electricity than they used to, even in the previous ten years,” White said. “With the advancements in technology, more people have a sound bar or a surround system with a bigger tv, or multiple tvs. Add in your Alexa that uses electricity all the time, and that is stuff that 10 years ago that you didn’t see much of.”

“Everybody’s baseline now is a lot higher than it used to be, especially for those of us who are older,” White said.

Hughes said that several years ago he put this to the test, and took every conceivable step to lower his own electricity bill.

“I lowered my bill by almost 30 percent just by purposefully shutting things off and unplugging things when they are not in use,” Hughes said. “It was an inconvenience, but I noticed the change for a couple of months.”

Hughes said that knowing what he knows, he still chooses to leave things plugged in and keep the house at a comfortable temperature because he’d rather pay a little more to be comfortable.

“We’re not telling you how uncomfortable you have to be in your own home,” White said. “If you want to keep it warm because you get cold, go ahead. Just understand that those few degree make a big difference in your electric bill.”

“Lowering your bill is all about education and creating different habits,” Hughes said.

Hughes analogized home electricity maintenance to four people who all have the exact same make, model and year of a truck, with all the same parts.

“We’re all going to get different miles per gallon depending on how we drive and how we use the truck,” Hughes said. “That relates to people’s homes.”

They’ve seen this play out just in the electricity usage of the same home after a new family buys it and moves in.

“If I moved into John’s house with my family ... I’ve got a family of six, and it’s just the two of them. I can guarantee you the bill would go up. We’ve got at least four cell phone chargers always plugged in, there is always a radio, always a tv, a computer, two laptops, doors opening all the time. It’s just a lot more activity,” White said.

The age of appliances, insulation, windows, thermostat settings, lights, electronics there is a wide spectrum of variables that impact your home.

Get a Free Consultation

Claremore electric customers have a unique opportunity that most people don’t.

If you’re concerned about your bills and usage, you can have an electrician with expertise in power performance assess your home for free.

“We are here to help people,” Hughes said.

Before you call out an electrician, call a Claremore Electric employee, whose salary you are already paying through your electric bill.

“We should be one of your first calls,” Hughes said. “If you don’t have an idea, call us, and we can help point you in the right direction.”