Electricity feels free, because the meter totaling
But as anyone who has to pay a bill at the end of the month can tell you, the power company does charge for keeping the lights on, the refrigerator running and the fan rotating. Since the days when Thomas Edison set up the first electricity sub-station in New York and brought power to the masses, electricity rates have been part of the monthly expenses for most anyone who doesn't live outdoors.
Although electricity can be provided by a local monopoly, some municipalities do offer choices for energy suppliers. Whichever the situation, there are governmental organizations that prevent your electricity supplier from charging what they want. Although rates vary significantly from place to place, they are regulated, subsidized and even dictated by state, regional and city boards.
The regulators consider a number of factors when judging whether rates are fair. First, they determine who is using power. The cost for residential, commercial energy and business electricity usage varies. There are also different rates for time of day use (because power is cheaper when fewer people are using it), weather conditions, demand (you'll pay more if everyone needs their air conditioner and taxes the system) and other factors.
It also matters what's driving the turbines that create the electricity you'll use. If you're part of a coal-fired system, the power may be cheaper than if your electricity provider uses diesel fuel or renewable energy like solar or wind power. And while nuclear power is cheap, the cost can escalate if there is an accident that requires cleanup. Turbines are also driven by oil and natural gas.
Most states regulate their energy rates with a Public Utility Commission. The commissioners, who are government appointees, aim to protect consumers and businesses from excessive electricity rate hikes and set the course for government investments in new infrastructure and planning for future energy use. They also handle matters on distribution and set the laws governing the total power output in the state, overseeing everything from utilities to marketers to transmitters. They also step in when there are issues of environmental concerns and can provide handy tools so that consumers can conserve power if they choose.
Overall, regulations help keep electricity costs from hitting the roof by making sure that you have an advocate in the government. Recent innovations include the adaptation of something called dynamic pricing, which allows you to adjust your energy usage to offset power costs at peak demand times. This can be as simple as running your dishwasher or other power-draining appliance in the evening, turning down your thermostat and turning off lights to help conserve power.
The overall goal of any regulation is to provide a fair shake to the homes and businesses that depend on lights being on when they need them and provide them options that will allow them to cut back on their usage if they desire. The power to choose is sometimes the ultimate power saver.