Social media users have been on fire recently asking why their electric bills are skyrocketing with drastic increases over a short time period.

“Just wondering if other’s HECO bill went up as much as mine did? It has been steadily increasing with the gas prices but this last one we just received was $78 higher than last month’s $285! That seems like a lot and I thought I heard that the increase with the coal burning plant closing was going to be about $15 or so. I’m in shock!” one person posted on the social media platform NextDoor.com.

The response from other posters was immediate.

“Ours went up $85. Shocked, no A/C either. Really??”

“Same here. Went from $300 to $380 the previous month and this month went up to $445!!! And we don’t even have AC.”

In August, Hawaiian Electric warned Oahu households that they would see their monthly electricity bills increase by about 7% when the company shut down the state’s last remaining coal-fired power plant on Sept. 1. As oil prices dropped, that estimate was lowered to 4%.

AES Hawaii Power plant coal burning electric powerplant Kalaeloa pollution.
Hawaiian Electric recently shut down its coal-fired plant in West Oahu. But that’s not the only reason electric bills are climbing. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

But many people are seeing their bills climb by much more than that. And, they say, they’re not using any more power than they had been.

James Kelly, vice president of government and community relations and corporate communications at Hawaiian Electric said some customers are seeing increased bills because it is so hot now, this is the time of year when most people’s electricity use peaks.

“You go from using the AC a couple of times a week for a couple of hours a day to having it on every day or every night when you go to sleep. That, on top of the increased rates, is absolutely going to drive the bill up,” Kelly said.

Hawaiian Electric has also been replacing its old mechanical electric meters with “smart” meters to more accurately record how much electricity is used by a customer.

“We are replacing mechanical meters that in some neighborhoods have been in service for 30 or 40 years,” he said. “In some areas those meters have slowed down and when you replace it with a digital meter that is just about 100% accurate, people have experienced higher bills.”

With a smart meter customers can connect to an online tool to see how their household uses electricity.

“You can see when you turn something on what the impact of that is on your bill,” Kelly said. “You can set energy alerts to get a text or email if you are using more energy. You can set a cap on how much you want to use a day to keep your bill manageable. The old meter really didn’t give any insight on how you use your electricity.”

HECO Vice President
Hawaiian Electric’s Jim Kelly Courtesy: HECO

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Hawaii is the most expensive state in the nation for residential electricity costs at 44.81 cents per kilowatt hour compared to 33.21 cents per hour a year ago. The nationwide average is 15.46 cents per kilowatt hour.

“In the long term in Hawaii our forecast is that rates will go down and stabilize. But, that is completely dependent on actions of people and institutions and nations and markets that we don’t have any control over,” Kelly said. “I don’t think anybody was expecting in January of this year what we were going to see in oil prices.”

As far as the comments on social media goes, Kelly said his company sees it and hears about increased bills in their call centers on a daily basis.

“Everybody in the company, we pay our own electric bills so we are sympathetic. We are all in this together,” he said. “If somebody is really looking for some options, if they are really struggling to pay their bill, then we can have a conversation about things they can do about their bill.”

“People have to take a hard look at how they use electricity in their house,” he said. “The second fridge in the garage, the AC uses a lot of electricity. You have to be smart about how you use it. It doesn’t have to be on all night at super low temperatures. We have tips on the web site and rebates offered by Hawaii Energy. There are options that people have.”

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