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Cutting power bills - one woman's story

Victoria woman cuts bill 71 per cent

BC Hydro is an unusual kind of company in that it actually wants you to use less of the product it's selling. That's because the utility, facing growing demands that could even outpace its growing supply, believes that one of the simplest ways to avoid damming half the province or purchasing power from coal plants over the border, is to encourage its customers to conserve. Their Power Smart initiatives were created for this purpose, as were other programs that work with large organizations to reduce their overall electricity demand.

Recently, a Victoria woman named Julia Mills won a prize for reducing her power bill the most out of any Team Power Smart client. From an average two-month bill of $286.06 in 2010, Mills reduced her power usage by 71 per cent. In one monthly comparison, Mills and her family were using 57 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity every day in July 2010, which she managed to cut to 15 kWh in July 2011. Her electric bill that included that month was $200 less than the previous year.

Mills, who works for BC Hydro but was new to Team Power Smart, said she has a new respect for the program.

"After seeing firsthand how effective simple conservation steps can be in reducing electricity consumption, I feel more confident when discussing with customers ways in which they can reduce their own consumption."

How did she do it?

It was pretty simple, actually:

• She emptied and unplugged her mini fridge.

• She turned down the temperature on her hot water tank to between 55 and 60 C.

• She turned off a baseboard heater she found in the crawlspace (not a winter option for Whistler residents, but something that could be done in the summer).

• She switched to compact fluorescent bulbs.

• She washed all her clothes on cold and bought an indoor drying rack.

• When she did use the dryer she dropped in a beach towel to absorb some of the wet, which she then air-dried.

• She filled plastic containers with ice to create thermal mass in her freezer (less empty space to cool).

• She turned down her fridge temperature slightly.

• She turned off her dishwasher's heat dry setting.

• She unplugged everything when not in use - laptop, toaster oven, electric kettle, cell phone chargers.

• She unplugged two out of four cordless phone chargers.

• She started to turn off the power bar that her printer and radio were plugged into when not in use.

• She took fewer baths and shorter showers.

• She used the oven light to check on food instead of opening the door to peek.

BC Hydro, as well as recognizing members of Team Power Smart that go the next level, is rewarding customers with cash as well as kudos. If you can lower your power usage by 10 per cent annually they'll give you a credit for $75.

While BC Hydro rates likely won't go up the full 32 per cent they've requested over the next five years, the overall increase will still be at least 16 per cent.

Meanwhile the average Whistler single family home (using electric heat) consumes 26,140 kWh per year, priced at 6.79 cents for the first 1,350 kWh used in the two-month billing period and 9.62 cents for every kWh after that.

The annual usage is lower for apartments and townhouses, but the overall average cost for the resort is around $2,000 per year at 2011 rates. The basic charge is only a small part of that, less than $9 per bill, and there are taxes as well. However, the majority of that cost is power usage, which means everyone has an incentive to save money.

Of course, Whistler's heating needs are a little different than in Victoria, which is why space heating is about a third of the overall annual cost - around $750 per home - but we could all save money taking a page out of Julia Mills's book.

You can join Team Power Smart at Signing up gives you an opportunity to win prizes and rebates, receive tips to reduce your bill, and compare your own power usage to that of your neighbours.

You may never look at your power bills, or your home, the same way again.