Electricity Rates

How To Read an Electric Bill: Electric Bill Breakdown

November 6, 2023
Amanda Smith
December 11, 2022

Have you ever received your monthly electric bill and found yourself puzzled by the numbers, wondering why it's so high, or just feeling confused about how to read it? If so, you're not alone. For many of us, that seemingly cryptic document that arrives in our mailbox or inbox can be a source of both frustration and curiosity.

Learning how to read an electric bill may seem complex at first, but it becomes easier once you understand the key components and how they're presented. In this post, we’ll walk you through an electric bill breakdown so you can take the first step toward being in control of your energy expenses.

1. Know Your Billing System

Understanding your billing system, including who your billing provider is and the billing period and frequency, will give you a solid foundation for interpreting your electric bill accurately. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Billing provider: the utility company responsible for generating and sending your electric bills
  • Billing frequency: how often you receive your electric bill—monthly is the most common, but you can also set up quarterly, semiannual, and annual frequencies
  • Billing period: the specific timeframe covered by each bill

2. Identify Your Billing and Rate Structure

A billing or rate structure on an electric bill refers to the pricing framework used to determine how much customers are charged for their electricity usage. Some common rate structures include:

  • Fixed rate: With a fixed-rate plan, you pay a consistent rate for electricity, regardless of fluctuations in market prices. This provides price stability but may not always reflect market savings.
  • Variable rate: A variable-rate plan means your electricity rate can change based on market conditions. Prices may go up or down, and your bill will fluctuate accordingly.
  • Budget billing: Some providers offer budget billing, which allows you to pay a fixed dollar amount each month, smoothing out seasonal variations in your bill, but with true-ups at the end of the year.

3. Understand Your Bill Breakdown

Understanding what’s included in your power bill is essential to deciphering the various charges and fees. This often includes:

  • Meter reading: cost of electricity consumed during a billing period
  • Electric supply charges: cost of producing the electricity consumed
  • Electric delivery charges: cost of transporting and distributing electricity
  • Capacity charges: fees to ensure electricity generation for peak demand
  • Additional fees: costs for other utilities like natural gas and water

By understanding these components in your electric bill breakdown, you can gain insight into how your electricity costs are calculated and which elements are costing you the most.

4. Track Your Monthly Consumption

It’s always a good idea to track your monthly electricity consumption. By monitoring your usage, you can identify trends and make informed decisions to reduce energy waste and lower your electricity bills. For example, you might anticipate higher electricity usage during sweltering summer months when you're running the AC, in contrast to the cooler fall months.

If your electric bill looks a bit off, check your billing history to identify any trends or irregularities. Understanding your past consumption patterns and billing amounts can help you detect significant changes or issues with your current bill. Fortunately, most electric companies will offer usage alerts throughout the month to give you an idea of how your electricity usage is shaping up for the month. This can help you make adjustments if you’re mapping toward a high electric bill. 

5. Compare Your Consumption With Cost

You can compare your consumption with cost by calculating your electricity cost. Compare this cost to previous bills to identify trends. Consider using energy-efficient practices and technologies to reduce your consumption and lower your bills over time. 

What’s Included in Your Power Bill?

To help you get a better understanding of your electric bill breakdown, here’s what you can find included in your power bill.

Meter Reading 

Your meter reading, also known as electricity cost, is the most fundamental charge on your electric bill. It represents the cost of the electricity you've consumed during the billing period and is typically measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). The rate you're charged per kWh is determined by your utility provider or your chosen rate plan.

Electric Supply Charges

Your electric supply charges cover the cost of generating or purchasing electricity from power plants. It includes the cost of producing the electricity you consume. This part of the bill is typically based on the rate per kWh.

Electric Delivery Charges

Electric delivery charges encompass several components, including:

  • Customer charges: a fixed monthly fee for being connected to the electric grid and having access to electricity
  • Transmission charges: cover the cost of transmitting electricity over long distances from power plants to local distribution networks
  • Distribution charges: the cost of delivering electricity from the local distribution network to your home or business 
  • Transition charges: charges that may relate to transitioning to cleaner or renewable energy sources and are intended to support environmental initiatives
  • Public policy charges: fees that fund government programs or policies related to energy efficiency, low-income assistance, or other public purposes

Capacity Charges

Some bills may include capacity charges, or fees associated with ensuring there is enough electricity generation capacity available to meet peak demand. These charges essentially serve as insurance against potential power outages, which can occur when there’s high electricity usage. 

Usage Profile

This section of the bill provides information about your account and historical electricity usage patterns. Here are a few things you may see on your usage profile:

  • Your name and address
  • Account number
  • Your energy company’s name
  • The past 12 months of usage history
  • Comparative usage information from the previous period
  • Your billing cycle’s start and end dates

This information may also be presented in charts or graphs showing your monthly or annual consumption, which can be useful for understanding your usage trends. You can use this section to help you track your monthly consumption.

Other Utilities

While an electric bill mainly focuses on electricity charges, it may also include information about other utility services if your utility provider offers them. These services could include:

  • Natural gas charges: If your gas service is provided by the same utility company, any natural gas charges may be included on the same bill.
  • Water charges: In some cases, water charges may also be included if the same utility company provides both water and electricity services.

Electric Bill Example

To help you get a better idea of what to expect on an electric bill, here’s a real-life example.

Understanding Your Energy Costs 

To fully understand your energy costs, you’ll need to know what a kWh is and how your electricity cost is calculated. 

What Is a kWh? 

A kilowatt-hour (kWh) is a unit of measurement for electricity consumption. It represents the amount of energy consumed when a device with a power rating of one kilowatt (1 kW) operates continuously for one hour. It's essentially a measure of how much electricity you use over time.

For example, if you have a 100-watt light bulb turned on for 10 hours, it would consume 1 kWh of electricity (100 watts x 10 hours = 1,000 watt-hours, or 1 kWh).

How Do You Calculate Electricity Cost?

To calculate your electricity cost, you need to consider the following factors:

  • Electricity rate (price per kWh): This is the cost you pay for each kilowatt-hour of electricity you consume. It's typically provided by your utility provider and can vary depending on your location, rate plan, and usage.
  • Electricity usage (in kWh): This is the total amount of electricity you've consumed during a specific period, usually measured in kilowatt-hours. 

To calculate your electricity cost, use the following formula:

Electricity Rate (dollars per kWh) x Electricity Usage (in kWh) = Electricity Cost

Here's a step-by-step example of how to calculate your electricity cost:

  1. Find your electricity rate on your electric bill. For example, the average kWh price in the U.S. is $0.17 per kWh.
  2. Determine your electricity usage for the billing period. For instance, the average American consumes 886 kWh in one month.
  3. Use the formula to calculate your electricity cost: $0.17 per kWh x 886 kWh = $150.62

So, in this example, your electricity cost for the month would be $150.62.

Understanding your electricity cost allows you to track your energy expenses, budget more effectively, and identify opportunities to reduce consumption and save money. It's essential to monitor your usage and know your electricity rate to manage your energy costs efficiently.

What Runs Your Electric Bill up the Most?

Several factors can impact your electric bill, and understanding them can help you identify what's contributing the most to your energy costs. Here are some factors that can run up your electric bill:

  • Energy types: The type of energy sources used in your area can have a major influence on your bill. Regions with higher reliance on fossil fuels may have higher electricity costs compared to areas with a greater share of renewable energy sources. The energy mix in your region can affect the rate you pay for electricity.
  • Rate structures: Your choice of rate structure, whether fixed, variable, or budget billing, plays a significant role in your bill. Variable and time-of-use rates can result in higher bills during peak periods when electricity rates are higher.
  • Air control systems: Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are among the biggest energy consumers in homes and businesses. Running these climate control systems inefficiently or keeping them on unnecessarily can drive up your bill. 
  • Weather: Extreme temperatures can cause spikes in energy consumption since heating and cooling systems run more frequently.
  • Building insulation: Insufficient insulation or drafty windows and doors can lead to heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer, which makes your heating or cooling systems run more often.
  • Technology use: Modern households and businesses often have numerous electronic devices that draw power continuously. 
  • Occupants: More occupants in a building mean increased demand for lighting, heating, cooling, and hot water. 

Control Your Electric Bill With Arbor

Understanding your electric bill breakdown might look complicated, but it's the key to managing your consumption and expenses. Even though you can't escape your electric bill, you don't have to strain your finances every month to pay it.

For an even simpler approach to saving on your power costs, consider Arbor. We provide a convenient and secure method to automatically reduce your energy bill. Just provide your electric account details, and our experts will locate a more competitive rate for you. 

Ready to start saving? Enter your ZIP code, and we'll compare rates to unlock the best offer for you today. 

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