Electrical Shock: Highest Bill Ever


On my desk in a lower stratum of mail, I just found our bill from American Electric Power for last months service. I almost tossed it unopened into the round file since we pay by EFT.

Curious, I had to go to the second page that I don’t know if I’ve ever really bothered to examine in order to find out how many kilowatt hours (KWH) of electricity we used last month

Why bother? Because 1) this is the most we’ve ever paid in a month for electricity since moving into the house in 1999 and I wondered if our usage had gone up so much or if AEP was tacking on “seasonal adjustment” charges or the like. And 2) I wondered how our average monthly use compared to the American average.

We paid Retail Transmission costs, Generation Services, OATT Transmission Services, Electric Supply Services, a Cost Recovery Surcharge, a Fuel Factor, VA and Local Consumers Taxes for a grand monthly total of $42.

I’d be interested to know exactly what those arcane “services” are and how they are calculated. Maybe I’ll snoop around on the AEP site and see if they can educate me.

Turns out, best estimates (DOE) I’m finding show the average monthly KWH use of electricity per household in America is about 900 KWH or 10600 KWH per year.

Our monthly average use for the past year is 337 KWH.

Our house is 2200 sq feet and we have the normal amenities, with indoor lighting (missing when we first saw the place) and multiple outlets in every room–fully to code. We live normal lives, electrically, I would think. How then that the average family uses almost three times what we use?

We don’t watch TV but the desktop stays on most of many days. The well pump is electric. Ann often dries clothes outside but she uses the electric wall bathroom heater to dry her hair (I’ve given up trying to dissuade her of this extravagance.) The washer and dryer and dishwasher are electric. We heat with wood and cook and heat water with propane.

What are we missing? What would we have to do to burn the AVERAGE? I don’t think we could burn 900 KWH if we left everything on 24/7. And think of it: how many homes must burn multiples of the average?

It staggers the mind when you consider the cost to society and the planet of flipping that switch.

So next time your E-bill comes in, take a look. What can you and your family do to sink BELOW the electrical AVERAGE?

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Why do people need 3-5,000 sq. ft. for (usually) a couple of people or at most three or four? The house I’m planning in Floyd will have less than 1500 sq. feet of conditioned space (we’re still not sure on the final figure). The house we live in now is larger and 138 years old, but we only fully heat the areas that we use regularly in the winter which includes the ones with water pipes. We all should take responsibility for the energy we use and the cost to society and the planet. It’s not easy, but every little step we take in that direction will help.

    As for the power bill, what you’re seeing are the normal expenses of their business, outlined in a “don’t blame me” format. What would happen if you gave your client a bill that said: Physical therapy $75, Professional Licensing $1, Rent $10, Office furniture depreciation $2, Electricity 5$, Heat $5, Insurance $3, Cost of Living surcharge $15, Telephone $2, Taxes $3, etc. ? They would flip! This is just a way for the utilities to pass on all of the expenses related to their business to the consumer and say “don’t blame us, look at all this stuff the government makes you pay.” It’s not our fault the cost of fuel went up. Meanwhile, they declare record profits, send dividends to their stockholders, and apply for rate increases, saying that they’re barely getting by. This doesn’t even count the hidden costs our children and grandchildren are paying through the degradation of the environment, mountaintop removal, acid rain, global warming and so on.

    This is a good example of “corporate citizens” not taking responsibility for anything that they can blame on someone else. When we created corporate entities by statute that have most of the rights of human beings, we forgot to give them a conscience, or a “soul” if you will.

  2. My (our) electric bill was a whopping 20 (TWENTY) dollars last month. The furnace is gas, as is the water heater, and stove (the gas is incl. in the rent). BUT the compressor / heat exchange pump that works with the furnace / AC, is electric. What keeps it so low is using natural light as both light and heat (solar gain) as much as possible, and not using the furnace more than absolute necessity dictates. We don’t have a TV (don’t want one either) or a spa, so I guess that helps. So does living in a building that is properly oriented to catch maximal sun at this time of year.


  3. I think the key to your low usage is that you heat with wood and use propane for cooking and heating water.
    At our house we do all those things with electricity. But the main thing that runs up our average is air conditioning in the summer. And in west Texas summer lasts almost 6 months.