Sometimes you learn your financial lessons by having them hit you in your own wallet.

Today I received my bill from our utilities company, and I was somewhat stunned. It had gone up another $54 since the previous month, and just over $100 since September. I couldn’t figure out why. True, it’s almost winter, and it’s gotten cooler, but my wife and I decided we were going to try something different for this year. We decided to keep the overall temperature down in the house, and only heat the rooms we were actually in with portable heaters. This meant my office, her projects room, and the master bedroom, which is only heated overnight. We have a 5-bedroom house, so we thought that it would be a waste heating everything else up.

We’ve also been relatively lucky as far as the weather goes. For our area of the country, central New York, temperatures have been about 10 degrees above normal. We haven’t had an inch of snow in one day for 281 consecutive days now; that’s a record that’s climbing every day, and something we’re not used to around here. But when we’ve had precipitation, it’s been too warm to be snow, or it came after the ground was too wet for it to stick.

I took a good look at the bill and tried to do some calculations, but I was failing. I’m pretty good with numbers, but how does one go about trying to compare therms, which is how gas readings are determined, against kilowatts, which is how electricity is determined? I had no clue, so it was time to call the power company, which in this area is National Grid.

I got the person on the phone and told her my story. Then I said I was trying to figure out whether electricity or gas was cheaper in heating my home, and she immediately said gas. She said even with only using 3 heaters that the process of creating heat was expensive, just like the process of creating cold air would be in the summer.

Then she asked me who was supplying my electricity. Over a year ago we started getting phone calls from electricity vendors, as NY decided the power companies had to open up the game to other supplies of energy. I told her the name, and she asked me how much I was paying them per kilowatt. I had no idea, so she walked me through to where the information was. Once I told her she asked me if I was sitting down, then told me that if I’d been on their own electricity plan that my bill would have been $80 less than it was.

Talk about being stunned! I told her that I had just picked one of the people who called because it seemed to me that they’d all been offering the same rates, and that I had called National Grid and asked them about the different people last year, and was told that they couldn’t help me in deciding who to pick. This woman told me that’s their policy, but consumers can call to ask about comparisons between their plan and a plan that we the consumers might have selected other than them.

The other company, who I’m not going to name, is charging me 9.4779 cents a kilowatt; the lady told me that’s very high. I did the calculation later on based on what she’d told me, and it seems my own power company is going to be charging me 5.4 cents a kilowatt. Yes, I told her I wanted to change back. She said that if I’d signed a long term plan that I could have a penalty, but that’s not my style, as I rarely sign anything for longer than a year. I’m stuck with this company through the end of December, since the new billing period has already started, but my electricity bills will drop afterwards.

Actually, they’re going to drop now, because she recommended that I raise the temperature on my normal heat, since I use gas, and decrease how much my wife and I use the heaters, and if we can stop using them overall, even better. Well, I’m not so sure about all of that, but I did turn the heat up about 5 degrees higher than we’d had it (as I said, we had it very low), and it’s actually been very comfortable in the house until around 1:30AM, since I stay up late. Truthfully, it’s still relatively comfortable, but I do feel a slight chill in the air, probably because it is so late in the evening.

Cheaper to use gas than electricity, even just to heat a couple of rooms; who would have thought? Of course, if you’re looking to heat one room and it’s a larger room, it’s cheaper still to buy a pellet stove. But that’s for another time.

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