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Electric Bill Reports Help Save Energy

Freida and Ray Tibbitts have always taken care to turn off lights whenever they leave a room, so they were stunned last fall when their electric bill jumped and the energy report included with the bill showed their home was using twice as much power as the neighbors.

Freida knew the reason: a daughter and son-in-law had moved in, and they kept lights and electric heaters on for medical reasons. She wrote to Rocky Mountain Power to explain.

“I wanted the company to know,” says Freida, “that we weren’t foolishly burning up a lot of power we didn’t need.”

The couple also followed one of the tips the power company offered, and they replaced all of the ordinary light bulbs with energy-efficient ones.

“It made sense to change to the more efficient light bulbs,” says Ray Tibbitts, because they put out more light for less money.”

The Tibbitts’ story is just one example of why Rocky Mountain Power is tucking home energy reports into electric bills. The reports don’t just inform customers, but they also motivate them. Doing better turns out to be a big incentive to use less electricity.

Kevin Emerson, an efficiency specialist for the advocacy group Utah Clean Energy, says there’s powerful social psychology behind the idea of getting neighbors to compare energy use.

“It’s kind of subconscious competition that gets unlocked,” he says. “And it’s somehow kind of hard-wired into who we are that we want to be part of that peer group that is doing well by our community, I guess, or that is recognized for doing the right thing.”

Utah Clean Energy pushed for the reports for years, and Rocky Mountain Power now sends them to all of its eight hundred thirty-five thousand residential customers in Utah.

Company spokesman Paul Murphy says the reports have already made Utahns more energy efficient.

“This is one area where the environmentalists and the utilities agree on something,” he says. “They realize that if people aren’t using electricity, we’re not going to have to be generating electricity. And, so, it’s better for the environment. It’s better for everybody.

Rocky Mountain Power says in a pamphlet that efficiency programs like this are working so well, the energy saved is enough to power around 30,000 homes.

One of the videos in Rocky Mountain Power's WattSmart video contest focuses on the competition sparked by the home energy report.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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