Utility rates are up slightly – will consumer frustration be up big time?

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Utility rates are up slightly – will consumer frustration be up big time?

Here are some numbers from our latest Energy Pulse™ for you to ponder:

  • 59% of the American population says their utility bills went up last year.
  • 80% of the American population says they’re not using more energy.

So if they’re not using more energy but their bills are going up, whose fault is that?

Their utility’s.

Our nation’s utilities are at the top of the “blame” list for rising prices (for the first time in eight years) and Americans are growing increasingly frustrated, angry and victimized over rising bills they think they can’t do anything about.  This state of mind, of course, threatens to derail the energy efficiency industry: If folks adopt a “why bother” attitude we’re destined to see a decrease in number of EE measures implemented (and we’re actually already seeing that in our data.)

So here’s a little bit of truth: According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), utility rates did go up on average across the country 1.3% last year, and they’re predicted to rise 1.9% this year. In fact, the EIA predicts our consumption will increase .8% every year through 2040. But let’s put that in perspective. For last year, a .8% increase in consumption combined with a rate increase of 1.3% is a 2.1% increase. The average American utility bill is about $105 – an increase of $2.20 month. For folks barely scraping by, that’s $26 a year that is desperately needed. For most of us, it’s an imperceptible increase.  So small it would be tough for 59% of us to actually notice that our bills have gone up.

So what gives?

We know that half the American population claims to have done between 1-3 things to make their homes more energy efficient. We also know that if they spent $4,000 on those improvements they expected to cut their bills a whopping 85%. So the perception of bill increases is likely linked to the overwhelming disappointment in not seeing a massive DROP in their bills. No decrease is the same as an increase.

We must help Americans begin to see actual, perceptible decreases in their utility bills in order for them to feel satisfied – and no longer “victimized” by their utility. Those kind of perceptible decreases will come with whole-home approaches – many measures done at once WITH lots of training about behaviors to actually maximize the efficiency. (You’d be shocked how many people actually leave the lights on more often once they screw in the CFLs or set their thermostats to more comfy temperatures once they buy the more efficient HVAC unit.)  One-offs with promises of savings simply won’t work. Utility customers have gotten smarter – and more frustrated – than that.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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