Ask Eartha: What is there to know about the various Xcel Energy plans? (column) | SummitDaily.com

Ask Eartha: What is there to know about the various Xcel Energy plans? (column)

Eartha Steward
Ask Eartha

Dear Eartha,

In my last electricity bill, I noticed that Xcel Energy is offering some new rate plans. Could you tell me more about how these different plans work — should I switch?

Barbara, Breckenridge

Thanks for your question this week, Barbara! A discussion on utility rate plans might not seem like an electrifying topic, but as a consumer, these plans are important to understand because they could save you money. And who doesn't like that?

Generally speaking, the more electricity you use currently, the more you stand to save. But even if you’re not a big energy user, there are a number of small changes you can make to save energy and money at home

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Kilo-what?

At the most basic level, the amount you pay for electricity depends on the amount you use. This is measured in terms of kilowatt hours. A kilowatt hour, even though the name might suggest it, doesn't measure the number of kilowatts you use per hour. Rather, it's a unit of measurement that equals the amount of energy you would use if you ran a 1,000-watt appliance for one hour. So, if you have a 100-watt lightbulb, you could leave it on for 10 hours before you've used one kilowatt hour of electricity. On the other hand, if you have a 9-watt LED bulb, you can leave it on for 111 hours before you've used a kilowatt hour of electricity (which is why LED bulbs save money). To give you some context, the average Summit County household uses 9,871 kilowatt hours of electricity every year.

General Plan

Unless you've signed up for a new plan, your household falls under Xcel Energy's General Plan. This uses what's known as a tiered rate structure, which means electricity is charged differently depending upon the tiers. In Colorado, we have different tiers for winter and summer use. In the winter, you pay about 5 cents per kilowatt hour, whereas costs increase in the summer. The first 500 kilowatt hours you use in a month are charged at the same rate — about 5 cents — but energy in excess of that is charged at about 10 cents per kilowatt hour.

Time of Use Plan

The Time of Use Plan rewards customers for using electricity during off-peak times. This means you try to minimize your electricity use weekdays between 2-6 p.m. when Xcel Energy experiences the highest demand on its electricity resources. Rates are higher during the peak period, lower on either side of the peak period and lower still overnight. You still pay based on the amount of energy you use, but if you can shift your biggest uses of electricity — water heating, clothes drying, home heating and even baking — to the off hours, you could save money.

Peak Demand Plan

The Peak Demand Plan provides incentives for customers who can reduce their electrical demand during the peak hours of 2-6 p.m. on weekdays. Demand is a measure of how much electricity your home uses at a given time. For example, if you run your dishwasher, clothes dryer and electric stove all at the same time, your demand is pretty high. Under this plan, you still pay per kilowatt hour of electricity used, but you also pay a peak demand charge, which is based on the single hour in a month when your energy demand is highest. If you're able to stagger your appliance usage and minimize electricity use during peak hours, your demand will be lower, and you won't pay as much. This might be a good option if you aren't home during the day and can install a programmable thermostat to keep your home cooler while you're gone.

If you're interested in learning more about these plans, head to Xcel Energy's website to check out the details. Generally speaking, the more electricity you use currently, the more you stand to save. But even if you're not a big energy user, there are a number of small changes you can make to save energy and money at home: Turn your thermostat back when you're not home, turn off lights when you don't need them, use smart strips for electronics, wash your clothes in cold water, replace old appliances with EnergyStar models and start using LED bulbs. To take a deeper dive into the energy-efficiency opportunities for your home, consider signing up for a home energy assessment though HC3's Energy Smart Colorado program. The assessment will let you know if your house needs more insulation or if it's letting warm air escape outside. Summit County residents who make improvements to their homes after receiving assessments save an average of $360 a year. Whether you change your behavior or your home, any steps you take to reduce your energy use will result in lower costs no matter which rate plan you're on — so as the nighttime temperatures start to drop, keep your heat set low, put on a fleece and grab a cuddle buddy!

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at info@highcountryconservation.org.