When more isn’t better: Why you use more kilowatt hours than your neighbor

Keeping up (or down, as it were) with Justin Stuva is a challenge. The Energy Advisor for Corn Belt Energy regularly receives a bill that’s nearly 60% lower than the average member’s.

“Hey, I do this for a living,” he said. “I’m uber-conservative about my usage. I’m the king of not leaving on lights.”

Stuva uses his own bill when he talks to members about their charges—“I probably did it three times just yesterday,” he said.

Members call often, and of course that’s what he’s there for. What he hears from many of them is that their neighbor’s bill is less and they want to know why.

“So many variables come into play when you’re looking at that number on your bill,” he said. “It really boils down to habits. I could bring my family to your house, and our habits would make the bill very different.”

The biggest factor in any bill is where the thermostat’s set.

“We recommend 75 degrees during summer and 70 during winter,” he said. “But my wife and I go a couple of degrees further. We keep it at about 77 during summer and 67 in winter. We’d really rather put on a sweater or get under a blanket than keep the heat at 72 degrees and pay that difference.”

And leave the space heater off—or at least turn it off whenever you leave the room. The cost of running one may seem low at first glance, but it adds up quickly.

“You hear ‘pennies a day’ when it comes to space heaters,” he said, “but it’s a lot of pennies. The average space heater uses 1500 watts, and so one hour running it uses 1.5 kilowatt hours. That’s an extra 36 kilowatt hours per day on your bill.

“You have a space heater on for a solid day, you’re spending about $3.60. People see that and go, ‘Holy smokes!’”

The King of Turning Off Lights naturally also points to flipping those switches—and to using high-efficiency bulbs. His house is full of CFLs and LEDs.

“We’re getting ready to roll out an LED rebate program for homeowners,” he said. “If you still use incandescent bulbs, your best potential for energy savings is in the fixtures you utilize the most. The bedroom closet won’t get you much savings because the run time’s so short, but the living room or kitchen lights are good candidates.

“If you switch to LED you’ll pay about 20 cents for every dollar you spend on powering incandescents. That’ll really reduce your consumption.”

Stuva says he generally finds ways for members to save just by going over their bills and habits on the phone. Reading the detailed data available through the smart meters the co-op uses can offer great clues.

“You can go online and see your weekly, daily, or even hour-by-hour usage data,” he said. “I might be on the phone with a member and say, ‘Hey, I see that your electric usage is jumping up at 5 p.m. and back down at 1 in the morning, and that started the day after Thanksgiving.’

“In that case, I’ll usually hear, ‘Oh, yeah—we put up our huge Clark Griswold lighting display!’”

Stuva acknowledges that he’s “kind of a nerd” about electricity and that many people won’t go to the lengths he does to keep those top two lines on his bill as low as possible. But he also won’t stop urging members to keep their water heater temperature low and get rid of their old basement beer fridges.

“You see a ‘facilities charge’ on your bill that helps cover the cost of maintaining electric equipment, and you see taxes—those are always going to be there,” he said. “But the rest is entirely up to you.”