Friday, September 24, 2010

Struggling to contain Utility Bills

electric utilityIt’s a fact that utility bills are higher in Europe than in the US.  It seems the same in the Netherlands or the UK: water, gas, heat, phone service can take a big bite out of monthly budgets.
For example, electric rates:
  • UK Residential: 22.187 p per kWh  (.35 per kWh)  (2010 e-On Standard rate)
  • US Residential: 11.3¢ per kWh  (2008)
I’ve struggled for years to try to manage them properly, but it has been a really frustrating few months.
e-on, my UK electricity provider, started out with charges of around ₤25 per month.  The bill bounced around a bit in midsummer, creeping up towards ₤40.  The issue for me was that the bill went up even when I spent more time in the Netherlands.  Part of the problem was with their method for meter estimations, which I now read myself.
Then this month’s bill hit at ₤90, outrageous for late-summer when light and heat are still lightly used.  I can’t even imagine where that kind of consumption is going in a 900 sq ft flat. Is it the immersion heater in the water tank?  The wind through the mail slot?  Leaving my laptop lit at night?
gas utilityI generally believe that things that generate heat are the biggest consumers of electricity, so I’m focusing my efforts there.  Certainly the storage heaters  (a completely unfamiliar concept to an American) cost money to heat and discharge.  I suspect that the electric range is slurping power to heat the slabs of iron that make up the ancient cooking surfaces.  The walls are likely well insulated because I abut units to either side, but the windows and doors certainly have gaps that may cause issues.
And, yes, I’ve considered whether I’m just a thoughtless, profligate American in my usage habits.
My best solution in the Netherlands has always been to get the utility bills included under the monthly apartment charge (Maastricht). 
The second-best is to negotiate a flat-fee arrangement with the utility (Arnhem).  Water companies seem to prefer this sort of payment scheme, and landline/internet telecoms like KPN or BT often provide ‘’all you can eat’ flat-fee arrangements.  Gas, and especially electric, bills are very difficult to negotiate, and I’ve found that the many different pricing and usage schemes are hard to compare..
Third, I’ve been working with the landlords to improve insulation and to install energy-efficient heating in anticipation of the cold months to come.  It’s a win-win and most see the long-term value to tenants, taxes, and property value.
Finally, I’m turning things on and off and running to check their impact on the meter.   The worst offenders are going to be the least used, no matter what.
The goal is to get this stabilized back at a reasonable level (‘comparable to what the neighbors pay) before things really spiral in December.

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