Category Archives: Newsletters

Power up Your Utility Bill Literacy:

8 Utility Bill Concepts to Save Energy and Moneyutility-bill-infographic

For most people, energy bills are a regular part of life. They come month after month, either by snail mail or email, and the charges are not trivial. To be sure, utility bill costs are not as high as housing or food expenses, but they do add up. Yet many of us don’t take a close look at these bills, and when we do look at them, we may not understand them.

Here are a few tips to help improve your utility-bill literacy.

  1. Learn Your Rate Plan

Understand the rate plan that you are enrolled in for each service that you receive (electricity or gas). If you live in a small home, you are probably enrolled in a tiered rate plan, even if you never officially signed up for one; in other words, the tiered rate plan is the default plan.

Electricity rate plan: you can find the name of your rate plan in the section called “Details of Electric Charges.” In the example shown, the rate plan is “E1.” E1 is the name of the tiered “monthly” rate plan for electricity. PG&E says that this electric rate plan works best for customers who can conserve energy throughout the month. Most residential customers perform best on this rate.

Gas rate plan: You can find the name of your rate plan in the section called “Details of Gas Charges.”  In the example shown, the rate plan is “G1.” 

utility-bill-details2. Understand your tiered usage

If you are on a tiered rate plan, you get charged for energy based on how much you use. According to PG&E, a tiered rate is defined this way:

“A rate structure for residential electric and natural gas customers of PG&E and other California investor-owned utilities that is designed to encourage energy conservation by increasing the price for each unit of energy, the more a customer uses. The rates for each tier are set by the California Public Utilities Commission.”  

In the E1 monthly rate plan each month, you are given a baseline allowance, which corresponds to Tier 1. If you use less than the baseline allowance, you get charged the lowest rate (see part two of the graphic). The baseline allowance changes throughout the year and is highest in winter. As your usage goes over Tier 1 and into Tier 2, you get charged a higher rate for the excess, and so on. As of August 1, the number of tiers has been simplified to three.

3. Consider Other Rate Plans

Some other rate plans include time-of-day tiered rate plans (in which you pay more at peak times of energy use, late afternoon and evening, and less at other times) and electric vehicle rate plans.

Time of Day Low Usage, 3 p.m.–8 p.m. (ETOUA)
This time of day rate plan works best for customers who don’t use much energy and can be flexible about when they use electricity. Save by shifting electricity use to before 3 p.m. or after 8 p.m. on weekdays, when prices are lower. Prices vary by season.

Time of Day, 4 p.m.–9 p.m. (ETOUB)
This time of day rate plan works best for customers who can be flexible about when electricity is used. Save by shifting your electricity use to before 4 p.m. and after 9 p.m. on weekdays, when prices are lower. Prices vary by season.

Electric Vehicle Rate Plan (EV)
This is an optional rate for electric vehicle owners and provides a discount if you charge your vehicle at night.

PG&E’s Solar Choice Plan
The Solar Choice option is for customers who wish to help drive the development of new solar projects. Although these customers do not receive “green” electrons, PG&E does purchase additional renewable energy on their behalf. You can choose to purchase either 50% or 100% solar electricity for a current supplemental price of about 3.58 cents/kWh. If you use 175 kWh in a month, the 100% plan  will increase your bill by about $6.25. On the 50% plan, your bill will increase by half of that, or $3.13.

4. Learn what’s in the fine print on page 2

To get down to the real nitty-gritty, read page two of your bill. It gives a breakdown of all the electricity charges that account for the amount due for the electricity bill. Here’s an example breakdown that shows the complexity of what goes into your bill:your-electric-charges-breakdown

In this sample, electricity generation charges account for only about half of your total bill. Do notice the Public Purpose Program charge, which funds programs considered by law to benefit society. Programs include low-income ratepayer assistance and the energy efficiency program CESC participates in. You can find more complete definitions of those charges on PG&E’s website or the back of your bill.

5. Log in to

PG&E prints this URL on every bill. Have you ever visited it? This is PG&E’s online portal for managing your account. Log in–it is worth your time. You can access current and past bills, compare your energy usage over time, check your rate plan, explore alternative rate plans, and even sign up for a specific rate plan.

6. Look at the Daily Usage Comparison graph

The most useful part of a standard PG&E bill, I think, is the “Daily Usage Comparison” graph that comes with the “Monthly Billing History” bar graph (see part three of the graphic). With this graph, at a single glance you can see whether something out of the ordinary has happened. Did you use about the same amount of electricity or gas as last year at this time, or significantly more? If it’s the latter, you may have an issue you need to take care of (such as a leak or an appliance, like a dryer, that is not operating properly). For more detailed information about your energy usage, check out

7. Find your local Community Choice Energy

Do you live in Marin, or select cities in the East Bay? Check out Community Choice Energy (also called Community Choice Aggregation, or CCA) which allows public agencies to purchase electricity on behalf of customers, as an alternative to investor-owned utilities (like PG&E). The goal of a CCE is to provide cleaner, greener, and more local electricity to customers. Marin County’s CCE was the first community choice energy in California; it came online in 2010. It serves Marin County, unincorporated Napa County, Richmond, El Cerrito, San Pablo, Benicia customers, and more cities are looking to join. Alameda County is exploring the option of creating one.

8. Explore these savings solutions:

No matter what rate you are on, using less energy will save you money.

  • Use less energy through turning off lights and appliances when not in use.
  • Change your heater air filter regularly, and turn down your heater a few degrees in winter (68 or lower) and up your AC in the summer (78 or higher).
  • Contact CESC!  Sign up for an energy audit to look for easy fixes to energy waste.

Do you enjoy reading CESC’s blogs? If you haven’t done so already, sign up to receive the e-newsletter The Energizer from CESC. If you sign up by the end of September, you are automatically entered in a raffle to win an energy-efficient power strip.




Newsletter #3: May 2013


Bike Month

In celebration of Bike Month, we have been biking to work!  In preparation, everyone was provided with a packet of safety tips, general biking information and fun events.  To ramp up, Stephen Nakada, our resident Climate Corp member, created a calculator tool to monitor the collective GHG reductions, calories burned, miles biked and more.  Since everyone would not be able to bike, walking and alternative transportation data was added to the tool for tracking. This has been a great way to include more coworkers in using alternative transportation.  So far, the month has been filled with cycling, camaraderie and many bike related activities, including the office favorite, a weekly bike-to-lunch outing.  Early next month, we will have some numbers to share from the calculator tool.

Newsletter #2: March 2013

SmartLights Article in Parking Today: Lighting Upgrade Helps City Garage Post 45% Savings in Energy Costs


Oakland, California is implementing one of the country’s most ambitious energy and climate action plans, aiming to reduce building energy use in 2020 to 36% below 2005 levels. To help accomplish this goal and simultaneously transform an antiquated parking garage into an ultramodern, energy efficient facility, the city partnered with ABM and SmartLights, a commercial energy efficiency program offered by the East Bay Energy Watch through the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Local Government Partnership. The results, ABM said, are a dramatic 45% energy savings and new electronic vehicle (EV) charging stations – all with a net zero impact on the city’s budget.

With aging lighting equipment, the parking garage at 1250 Martin Luther King Way was identified by Oakland as the prime candidate for an energy retrofit.

The city also wanted to install EV charging stations to support sustainability efforts, but the parking garage didn’t have the power capacity. And Oakland officials wanted to do all this without increasing the city’s operating budget.

ABM installed state-of-the-art, high-efficiency, fluorescent and LED lighting, and wireless (Zigbee) lighting controls that reduced energy use by 45%.

The energy-saving enhancements also allowed for the installation of several ChargePoint EV charging stations, without the need to upgrade the facility’s existing electrical system.

Leveraging federal and local incentives, and low-interest financing from ABM, Oakland was able to pay for the entire project with its utility cost savings, and to contribute a positive cash flow to the existing budget.

Along with the significant energy reduction and new EV charging stations, other key benefits include:

• $54,965 reduction in annual energy costs.

• 342,654 kWh saved per year (equivalent to eliminating 246,046 lbs. of CO2 or planting 23.8 acres of pine forest).

• 2.9 year payback.

• Improved lighting quality and safety, as well as reduced maintenance.

Client Quote
“Our parking garage is now substantially upgraded. It’s safer, there’s less maintenance needed, and the quality is great.” – Scott Wentworth, Energy Engineer, City of Oakland, CA

Newsletter #1: February 2013

Multifamily SWEEP for Savings

CESC is rolling out the new year as a partner in the Multifamily Solid Waste and Energy Efficiency Program (SWEEP), which focuses on streamlining multiple programs and services to multifamily properties. The goal is to improve building’s energy efficiency and waste diversion strategies. In April 2012, Multifamily SWEEP was started by a working group in the Berkeley Climate Action Coalition, with the goal of addressing the City of Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan and thereby reducing GHG emissions. This working group is a collaborative effort with many community members and organizations including: the City of Berkeley, the Berkeley Student Cooperative, the Ecology Center, and Rising Sun.

CESC will provide free energy and solar assessments to property owners. Also, there are a variety of free and low-cost home repair services for qualified low-income residents. Additionally, other partner organizations will be offering their services as a part of this multifaceted approach to promote energy upgrades and encourage sustainability at the community level.

This program will reach multi-unit dwellings, which are overlooked and often have large energy saving potential. Many property owners and tenants are simply unaware that these energy and waste programs exist locally and can serve their needs. The Multifamily SWEEP is well equipped in resources, expertise, and motivation to resolve these problems within Berkeley, and help advance the city’s efforts as a leader of local climate action.

For more information about this program, please call Joanna Perez-Green at: (510) 981-9818 or email: