Dissect a HELCO bill
An average Hawaii Electric Light Co. customer doles out around $225 every month for 500 to 600 kilowatt hours of electricity, a far cry from the nation’s average of $63 for the same usage.
Depending on the household, some customers use 200 kilowatts while others, such as resort homes, can use upward of 2,000 kilowatt hours, said Curtis Beck, HELCO Energy Services manager. According to HELCO’s current tiered rates, that 2,000 kilowatt hours equates to $847, plus charges and fees.
HELCO’s per kilowatt hour electric rate that starts at 40.1 cents is higher than Oahu’s 32.3 cents and Maui’s 36.2 cents, Beck said. He noted HELCO’s parent company, Hawaiian Electric Industries, operates electric companies on all islands except Kauai. The more electricity you use, the higher your rate will be because HELCO operates on the tiered-rate system.
On Kauai, the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative’s rates are higher than the rest of the state at 45.8 cents per hour, according to its Public Utilities Commission-approved rate schedule effective April 1.
NorthWestern Energy, a mainland utility serving Western Montana, has a per kilowatt hour rate of 10.1 cents, said Claudia Rapcoch, the company’s communications director, who noted the state has various cheap energy sources, such as natural gas, to produce energy. Nevada Power Co., according to its effective rate schedule, charges 9.9 cents.
The average retail per kilowatt hour charge for electricity in the U.S. was 11.43 cents in January, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The administration also said the nation’s highest could be found in Hawaii at 36.25 cents while the lowest was 7.63 cents in South Dakota, which would equate to a $42 bill.
The main reasons for the higher electricity cost in Hawaii is reliance on fossil fuels, which the company is trying to cut back on by securing agreements with independent power producers no longer bound to fuel costs, and the Big Island’s sheer size and population.
With 4,000 miles of distribution and 640 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, Hawaii Island has more line to maintain than Oahu, but a third fewer customers — 80,000 versus Oahu’s 300,000. HELCO must provide electricity all over the island, from Hawaiian Ocean View Estates to Mauna Kea’s summit, Beck said.
“On the Big Island, we are at a disadvantage because the island is much larger than Oahu, but has fewer customers to spread the cost among,” he said.
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An array of fees and charges, in addition to actual electricity usage, make up a residential HELCO bill. Some fees and charges help fund independent rebate and efficiency programs, while others cover HELCO’s maintenance, operation and fuel costs, Beck said.
Here is a breakdown of just what you’re paying for every month (effective April 9):
1. Customer charge
Here on Hawaii Island, a residential customer pays HELCO monthly $10.50 to cover the utility company’s cost of rendering customers’ bills. That fixed cost covers billing system maintenance, sending out employees to read approximately 80,000 meters monthly, and actually creating the bill.
In some cases, HELCO uses an estimated meter reading, Beck said, but he stressed the company avoids doing that unless a person can’t get to the meter for a reading because of a vicious dog, overgrowth or some other extenuating circumstance, such as a labor strike, limits the company’s ability to send out meter-readers. When estimating a customer’s usage, HELCO takes the average of the preceding three months, in accordance with PUC rules.
In Hawaiian Ocean View Estates, the company has “several thousand” remote meters that send back usage data without a reader having to travel to Ka‘u, he said.
2. Non-fuel energy
This kilowatt-per-hour charge covers most of HELCO’s costs associated with getting power to the customer, such as operating plants and maintaining HELCO’s grid of distribution centers and transmission lines. This cost does not cover any fuel expenses.
It is set by the PUC and is fixed currently at 11.2 cents for the first 300 kilowatt hours; 14.6 cents for the next 700 hours; and 15.7 cents for usage over 1,000 kilowatt hours.
3. Base fuel energy
The base fuel energy charge pays for the fuel that HELCO uses to operate its power plants to produce electricity. It also covers what HELCO pays to independent power producers, such as Puna Geothermal Venture, for energy. The charge is based on fuel prices used in the utility’s last PUC-approved rate case.
Currently, the rate is 16.25 cents per kilowatt hour, according to HELCO.
4. PBF surcharge
The Public Benefits Surcharge is collected from every customer to fund energy efficiency programs, including incentives such as rebates for solar water heating and appliances. The money collected is not managed by HELCO, but rather by Hawaii Energy, an independent party that reports to the PUC.
5. Energy cost adjustment
This PUC-allowed adjustment may be assessed on customers when the price of fuel fluctuates. The adjustment reflects increases and decreases with the cost of buying and producing energy from the time the base fuel energy rate was set by the PUC.
Information provided by HELCO Energy Services manager Curtis Beck, HELCO billing specialist and rate expert Jim Moulds and Kona customer service supervisor Stan Kaneo.
Hawaii’s current per kilowatt hour residential electric rates by island
Note: Hawaiian Electric Industries supplies the Big Island, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Oahu through its utilities. Kauai is serviced by Kauai Island Utility Cooperative. Rates effective April 1.
c Big Island — Hawaii Electric Light Co.
First 300 kilowatt hours - 40.1 cents
Next 700 kilowatt hours - 42.3 cents
Over 1,000 kilowatt hours - 43.1 cents
c Maui — Maui Electric Co.
First 350 kilowatt hours - 36.2 cents
Next 850 kilowatt hours - 36.9 cents
Over 1,200 kilowatt hours - 37.5 cents
c Molokai — Maui Electric Co.
First 250 kilowatt hours - 42.7 cents
Next 500 kilowatt hours - 43.9 cents
Over 750 kilowatt hours - 44.7 cents
c Lanai — Maui Electric Co.
First 250 kilowatt hours - 44.1 cents
Next 500 kilowatt hours - 45.3 cents
Over 750 kilowatt hours - 45.7 cents
c Oahu — Hawaii Electric Co.
First 350 kilowatt hours - 32.3 cents
Next 700 kilowatt hours - 33.1 cents
Over 1,000 kilowatt hours - 34 cents
c Kauai — Kauai Island Utility Cooperative
All energy used is assessed at 45.8 cents per hour.