Understanding hydro billing

A definitive guide to using electricity wisely

  • May. 27, 2015 12:00 p.m.

Hydro bills are on the rise. Electricity costs account for a big chunk of the monthly budget, especially in winter. Families struggling to make ends meet often straddle the line between disconnection notices and keeping the bill current. To add insult to injury, they may even be wasting energy unknowingly, and may be misunderstanding how consumption is billed. This article should offer a better understanding and plenty of tips to lower those bills, so that everyone can be aware of how to use energy more wisely.

One misconception is there are particular hours of the day during which hydro costs more. This is a myth in BC but other provinces charge fees this way. Ontario customers pay more for power usage between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

According to Jen Walker-Larson, Stakeholder Engagement Advisor, Community Relations with BC Hydro, “No, we do not bill customers different rates at different times of the day. We have a two-step conservation rate in place for residential customers so there is an incentive for customers to reduce consumption.”

This where the confusion occurs. There is a lower rate for the first 1,350 kWh used by a residential customer in each billing period (called step 1) and a higher rate for additional electricity used (called step 2). Further explanation can be found at: www.bchydro.com/accounts-billing/rates-energy-use/electricity-rates/residential-rates.

Home heating alone can account for 40 to 50 per cent of the electricity bill. Heating costs rise about five per cent for every degree above 20°C (68°F) on the thermostat.

The most common energy wasters in a home are older appliances or appliances being used inefficiently. Clothes dryers typically use the most electricity of anything else. Buying an Energy Star model is worth it; they use 20 per cent more efficient than standard models. Refrigerators and freezers are also power hogs, since they run 24 hours a day.

Walker-Larsen adds, “A full fridge or freezer is more efficient than a near empty one. For families with spare refrigerators, each one is costing customers up to $90 a year to operate. We also encourage customers to unplug unused electronics. The average Canadian has more than 25 electronic devices that use standby power – this can cost households up to $50 a year in electricity ”

Belkin makes a power conservation adaptor that switches off the electricity to a device without having to continually unplug and plug cords back in. For $10 per plug, it would eventually pay for itself as many people don’t realize the vampiric electricity draw of having idle devices plugged in. This includes the toaster, computer, chargers, lamps, home entertainment components and space heaters, even when they are shut off.

Another way to really get a grasp on household consumption is with an energy monitor. According to its website, “Blue Line’s PowerCost Monitor™ is compatible with, and mounts easily on, the vast majority of electricity meters in North America. It works by “seeing” the moving disk on a mechanical meter or light pulses from a digital meter and is compatible with most “Smart Meters.”

The buyer attaches an optical reader to the power meter, which then sends a continuous stream of information to the monitor. The monitor is portable and shows how much energy is being used at any given time. Such devices are available at hardware and home improvement stores for about $100. Playing around with different electrical components in the house while reading the monitor can provide helpful information. One user reported that several strings of twinkly lights use the equivalent of $0.04/day and a laptop about $80/year but in-floor heating can cost $6/week.

It works solely as an information tool. Once a homeowner knows what is using the most power they can then make educated decisions about their own consumption. In a 2012 study, Alberta’s Energy and Environment ministries gave the monitors to 300 people for two months. They found an average saving of 9 per cent and 17 per cent for those with electric heat once customers knew how to control their usage.

“We have a couple of rebates/ offers at the moment,” explains Walker-Larsen, “If a family is in the market for a new refrigerator, washing machine or clothes dryer, customers can save up to $300 through rebates from BC Hydro Power Smart, select retailers and municipalities until the end of June.”

Households with secondary or spare fridges can schedule a pick-up from BC Hydro through the Refrigerator Buy-Back program, helping customers save up to $90 a year. More information is available at powersmart.ca/fridge.

Additional no-cost tips can be found at www.bchydro.com/powersmart/residential/savings-and-rebates/everyday-electricity-saving-tips.

Energy and cost saving tips:



• Turn down the heat by just two degrees can reduce home heating costs by five per cent.

• install a programmable thermostat and lower the heat during the night or during work/school hours

• Program the thermostat to set back the temperature by five degrees for eight hours every night will save approximately 10 per cent on the heating bill.

• Hang the laundry to dry; hanging eight loads of laundry a week, could save $47 a year

• Toss a clean, dry towel in the dryer with wet laundry — this significantly reduces drying times, saving up to $27 a year


• Fill the fridge/freezer with plastic jugs of water to make these appliance as efficient as possible



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