Dear Consumer,

You can stop spending so much on your electricity bill. Although electricity jargon can become a tangle of numbers, you should be better informed on how much energy you’re using, and how much it is going to cost you at the end of the month. But you’re not the one to blame. In March, Public Utility Commission of Texas Chairman Barry Smitherman told fellow committee members about the challenges facing government to better educate the public on electricity use.

“I think there are some pockets of Texans that have become more informed, but it is unreasonable for us to expect people to be informed, because we haven’t given them the tools,” Smitherman said. “They don’t have the ability today to make the buying decisions about electricity like they make with every other buying decision.”

Over the past several years, members of the Legislature, energy coalitions, and electric distribution businesses have tried to find a common solution, including legislation that would upgrade the energy grid, and prioritize energy efficient services and products. But the bottom line was to lower the monthly bills of consumers.

Oncor, a company that distributes electricity to over seven million Texans, is at the forefront of new-age advanced metering technology. Installing twenty-five hundred advanced meters a day is a part of the state mandate that increases one’s bill by $2.21 a month. These meters will tell electric companies when and where there has been a power outage, while giving consumers the ability to set a footprint for their electric bill and better regulate their usage. But to effectively see this cause and effect, Oncor advocates in-home monitors.

In-home monitors will tell you how many cents per hour you’re using in real time. Turn the microwave on, and watch the cents go up; turn the lights off, and feel your pocket get heavier. The monitors will tell you if the clothes dryer was set to run during the day when the rates are highest, or if you left the lights on while you were sleeping. Although in-home monitors are nothing other than information centers, they can help you to see how your daily habits affect your energy bill instead of getting hit with the damage without a chance to stop it.

While in-home monitors cost an additional $40 to $100, retailers see this technology as a potential competitive free-for-all, possibly giving people monitors and other incentive plans, much like cell phone providers do with contracts. And like your cell phone bill, you know how much you spend on phone calls and text messages. That’s the type of instant information consumers need for their electricity.

But in-home monitors are not the only resources for those who want to change their habits and save money. The Association of Electric Companies of Texas (AECT) recently launched a Web site called to make accurate and personal calculations available to Texans seeking to make their own energy efficient changes.

Texas Monthly spoke with AECT’s Russell Mullins and Curtis Seidlits (a former chairman of House State Affairs).

Q: What led you to come up with a Web site of this nature?

Mullins: The word energy efficiency is not real sexy and you say it and it turns people off, but if you say I can save you money, all day long people are perking up. The same way with the environmental aspect, being more efficient is the quickest way to curb global warming and emissions, but if you try to sell it from that angle it automatically turns people off. If you sell it as, you can save money, which is the truth, you get the environmental benefits but also get to keep a lot of your money you’re wasting.
Seidlits: After the mortgage, the energy bill is the second largest expenditure in most homes, so that’s why the industry is making great strides in bringing informational devices to consumers. I don’t think people understand how much money they’re actually wasting, and that the choices they make affect their electric bill and therefore their bottom line. And that’s what we’re trying to do is show people the cause and effect.

Q: What has changed over time to raise energy bills so much?

Mullins: Over the last ten to fifteen years, houses have gotten bigger, ceilings have gotten taller, but we’ve also added computers and monitors and printers, and nobody seems to understand the impact that those things have on their electric bill. The average usage has gone up a toe, and even though the rates have remained relatively stable, the bills have gone up. A plasma TV uses three times the electricity than the old tube TV, so even if you get a new TV with Energy Star on it, which is more efficient compared to other plasma TVs, it still uses more energy than the TV it replaced.

Q: How is your site different than other helpful resources?

Mullins: There are a lot of sites that had to do with energy efficient suggestions, but nothing that put it together on one site so you can learn about the electric market and what impact your behavior has on your electric bill each month. If I do this, how much will I save? Especially changing your light bulbs and unplugging different things, it’s math and you can absolutely calculate it, but those calculators weren’t available. There are only two parts to the bill, how much you’re getting charged per kilowatt hour and how many kilowatt hours you use.

Q: What is the most important thing you want people to take from your site?

Mullins: shows you what a change in your habits is going to do to your bill. It shows you exactly how much you’ll save over the next month, year, and over a period of time. And sometimes people make investment on energy efficiency stuff trying to save money, but they’re not informed enough to make good decisions. They end up spending money on something that isn’t going to save them the most possible amount for money spent. Air conditioners are measured in seer units, so going from an 8 seer to a 15 seer; you’re going to save a lot of money. But if you already have a 15 seer, you would be better off sealing up your doors or changing your light bulbs.