Kari Sinoff
Kari Sinoff

Shifting Seasons and Shifting Energy Use: Time of Use Rates in California

Every year I find myself looking forward to fall. That first night when the crisp air sneaks through the windows? Realizing almost as quickly that the leaves have started to change colors? Living in northern California is an authentic four-season experience, and I love it. On the other hand…I don’t particularly look forward to the increased cost of heating my home during the cooler months. Fortunately, our family has managed to keep our energy costs lower by using basic energy saving tips and paying attention to our energy usage and rates. Earlier this year I learned about the upcoming Time of Use (TOU) Rate Plan rolling out across California, a new rate plan that includes some additional ways to reduce costs while reducing dirty energy use and emissions. COMM DonnerLakeFall BBenesi 2017 10   

In 2015, the California Energy Commission issued a decision (D.15-07-001), requiring the major investor owned utilities (IOUs) to reform their residential rate structure and transfer residential customers over to a Time of Use Rate Plan. Several IOUs have already transitioned over to the TOU plan this year, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) will transition their districts in 2020.   

What this means for most customers is that energy use prices will be lower during the day and higher in the late afternoon and early evenings. This concept encourages customers to shift their energy use away from high demand periods when prices are at their peak. Electricity rates will be highest during the hours of 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm, and lowest during off-peak hours, which are the remaining 19 hours of the day. Ideally, you will want to rearrange some of your daily routines to conserve energy and save money during this five-hour window. I know 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm seems like a daunting time to reduce your energy use, but there are simple strategies you can take to create a well thought out routine and plan of action.   

First, verify with your electric utility company and find out the specifics of your rate plan. Public Owned Utility Companies (PUD) may have different rates and plans.  

For IOU customers, make a note of the TOU rate plan hours. You will want to begin shifting your energy use away from the higher rate peak period of 4:00-9:00 pm and toward the reduced rate, off-peak hours. This doesn’t mean you can’t turn on your lights and cook dinner, or help your kids with their homework, but it does mean you can move the non-essential, energy driven activities to off-peak times. There are many affordable smart devices available to make energy intense activities easier to manage. For instance, using a timer delay to run the dishwasher or washing machine and installing smart control thermosets can push some household’s major energy users into off-peak hours.     

Here is a list of additional tips provided by Energy Upgrade California and PG&E that will help with the adjustment not only to TOU rates, but to the cooler weather ahead this season: 

  • Turn off non-essential lighting and electronic devices between 4pm-9pm.

  • Adjust your thermostat to not only save energy, but also to pre-cool or pre-heat your home outside of peak demand hours.

  • Take advantage of daylight and do any household chores and activities that you can during the day before 4 p.m. when energy is cleaner and less expensive.

  • Charge your battery-powered devices over night after the peak demand period ends at 9pm. Also apply the everyday household energy saving tips and take control as the weather cools: 

Tips for Cool Weather:

  • Shut out the cold. Keep warm air in and cold air out by closing curtains, shades and blinds when you sleep or leave the house.

  • Bundle up. Instead of turning up the heat, try adding layers of clothing and blankets, especially during peak hours.

  • String up savings. Use energy-efficient LED lights for holiday decorations. Turn them off when you go to bed or use a timer to so you don’t forget.

  • Save while you’re home. Set your thermostat to 68°F or lower, health permitting. Your home uses 3 to 5 percent more energy for every additional degree that it’s raised.

  • Save while you’re away. When you leave the house, set your thermostat to 56°F. You can save 5 to 15 percent on your annual heating bill by keeping your home at this temperature for 8 hours per day.

  • Seal and save. Keep your home comfortable and save up to $50 a year in heating costs by weather stripping your windows and doors.  

  • Shifting when you use energy will not only help you adapt your daily routine to avoid higher electricity rates, it will decrease stress on the electrical grid when energy use is at its highest and IOUs must rely on high-cost, dirty energy sources, such as coal and fossil fuels, to fulfill the higher demand.   

Shifting energy use to off-peak hours allows more energy to be produced from low-cost, renewable, clean, sources during the day, when the supply is greater. In addition, using cleaner, renewable energy resources reduces GHG emissions and supports the State of California’s energy reduction goals of reaching a zero emission economy by 2045. Let’s all do our part and start at home!  

Sierra Business Council’s Climate and Energy team is working with Energy Upgrade California to share energy-saving solutions and information about TOU rate plans. If you would like to learn more about the TOU rate plans along with additional ways to reduce your energy use during the cooler months, please give us a call, our climate and energy team is happy to speak with you.