Sacramento region's electricity bills dip, thanks to Mother Nature

Published: Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6B
Last Modified: Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 - 8:42 am

It's not your imagination: Your SMUD bill really is a little lower this month.

With fewer scorchingly hot days and evenings so far in August, fewer Sacramentans are cranking up the air conditioning.

For the average customer, that means a 20 percent drop in monthly energy usage through mid-August, which in turn means savings of about $35 on an average electric bill.

"It's pretty big: $35. That's a dinner out," said Nate Toyama, a SMUD supervisor of load forecasting.

You can thank Mother Nature for the break. In recent weeks, summer temperatures are mostly below average, said SMUD spokesman Christopher Capra.

Earlier this summer, a seven-day streak of 100-plus days – June 28 through July 4 – pushed thermometers and people's discomfort levels to untypical highs. The heat spell topped out July 4 at 110 degrees.

With milder days and cooler evenings, there's been less demand for air conditioning, considered the biggest power guzzler on residential energy bills.

For the average SMUD residential customer, the mid-June to mid-July bill was $152, compared with $117 for the 30-day period through mid-August. Average usage during that period dropped from 1,073 to 854 kilowatt hours.

That's based on 270,000 accounts, roughly half of SMUD's total customer base. Monthly billing cycles vary by neighborhood.

PG&E, which covers El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties, did not have specific data on energy use or billing rates for the last month. But, "generally speaking, in cooler weather, fewer customers will use energy in the higher rate tiers … which will result in lower bills for many customers," said PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno.

The milder temperatures have also dampened business for some air-conditioning companies, who are seeing a slight slowdown in service calls.

"Hot nights and hot weekends, when people are home, really affects our business," said Jerry Bell, co-owner of Bell Bros. Heating & Air Conditioning in Sacramento.

"July was one of our best months ever because there were so many 100-degree days. But August, it's down a little bit, about 10 percent."

Similarly, service calls at Garick Air Conditioning Service are down from July when "we were pulling our hair out and turning away new work," said shop manager Jonathan Turner.

Rather than piling up 48- to 52-hour weeks as they did last month, his five-person crew is back working normal full-time hours in August, mostly installations and changeouts, he said.

What's good for consumers' wallets is also better for the environment, said SMUD's Capra.

"On days we hit peak demand, we have to go out and buy pricier power from a 'peaker' plant," which typically means turbines that burn natural gas, he said. "Any time we can keep usage lower, we don't need to procure power from sources that aren't as clean as we'd like it."

And it looks like the milder weather is going to last, at least through the end of August.

For the next seven days, the National Weather Service predicts temperatures will climb no higher than "near 90" degrees.

Call The Bee's Claudia Buck, (916) 321-1968. Read her Personal Finance blog, Follow her on Twitter @Claudia_Buck.

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