While I’m not adding this electricity cost analysis to my “Breaking Bad: CA vs. the Other States” fact sheet (this analysis is a hard item to condense into one sentence), it’s a situation my California readers need to understand. Our state’s residential electricity rates often are outrageous compared to the rest of the nation. And under AB32, these rates are predicted to go up as much as 30% or more — while the other states didn’t chose to commit such “cap and trade” economic suicide.
BTW, our state’s industrial electricity rates are even higher compared to other states — 59.8% higher than the national average as of December, 2011. But this article will dwell on the cost of electricity for our homes.
For comparison purposes, I’m ranking homes with an average monthly usage of 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) — a common utility industry benchmark. I suspect that this usage level may be above average for a California home (we “coasters” have less heating and cooling costs than average), but it works quite well for comparison purposes.
1,000 kWh/month actually is a bit less than what we used in my home seven miles from the ocean — before we installed a solar array, but after we had switched to florescent everything.
AN ASIDE: Yes, residential solar electricity IS a good deal — IF:
1. You live inland in sunny southern CA (not right on the coast)
2. You exceed 500 kWh per month usage
3. You pay our area’s sky-high electricity costs and
4. You receive overly-generous federal and state tax credits for installing a solar array.
Even then, you’d normally want to install only enough solar to eliminate the usage at the upper tiers, where the per unit cost can double. In San Diego, that “trigger point” is usage above that roughly 500 kWh level. Hence for a 1,000 kWh user, you should consider solar primarily for the top 500 kWh usage. I’ve written about the consumer solar power option before.
Pricing of electricity is tricky, and is something most people simply can’t or don’t figure out. There’s electricity cost, distribution cost (based on electricity usage), lots of taxes and — most important — there’s usually tiers of usage. The more you use, the higher the tier, and the higher the cost of each tier.
Fortunately, Jacksonville Electric (JEA) posts a continuously updated comparison of itself with 55 other utilities around the nation, based on 1,000 monthly kWh residential usage. Unfortunately the JEA comparison does not include all the utilities, but it’s certainly good enough for our purposes.
According to JEA’s current April, 2012 figures, the most expensive utility they survey is some dinky outfit in Fairbanks, Alaska, charging $232.81. But then, EVERYTHING costs more in Alaska.
Number two? Southern California Edison — which charges $222.79. Number three? My own San Diego Gas and Electric — which charges “only” $189.97. The survey’s 4th highest utility — in Newark, NJ — charges considerably less — $168.87.
There are 56 utilities in the JEA comparison table — private and public operations. To give you a feel for the range of prices, the two lowest utilities charge under $80 a month. Of the 56 utilities surveyed, the median-priced utility charges a bit over $117 a month.
Thus our San Diego Gas and Electric residential rates are 62% higher than the median-priced utility in the survey. That can cost a San Diego area 1,000 kWh homeowner another $860 a year in electrical bills.
Missing from the JEA comparison is our state’s huge Pacific Gas & Electric utility. That’s understandable, as PG&E’s Byzantine rate structure is just too hard to calculate — they charge different rates in different communities, as well as usage price tiers.
The best I can come up with was a study done by an analyst in Fresno who ran the 1,000 kWh PG&E numbers for his area in 2010 (the URL is no longer valid).
Move over, Fairbanks, Alaska! There’s a new #1 cost utility. PG&E rates were highest at $241.93 — over 27% higher than our local expensive SDG&E. And note that this PG&E rate is about two years old. Most utility rates have gone up since then — presumably so has PG&E’s.
Other utilities in CA charge less than SoCal Edison, SDG&E and PG&E, but are still well above the national average. For instance, Sacramento Municipal Utility is #9 on the list.
There are many factors in such comparisons, and I doubt these figures I present are without some minor errors. For instance, does the JEA comparison accurately handle the all the utility taxes? Remember, such taxes can vary by municipality or county.
Still, you get my drift. For whatever reasons, electricity costs a boodle in California, and sadly that is yet another reason for individuals and companies to locate outside our fair state.
Of course, also there’s that amazing California water bill . . . but that’s the topic for a later dissertation.