Electric rates: the heat’s on
With heating oil and natural gas in short supply and prices for both on the rise, might now be the time to convert to electric heat or select it for a new house? Electric companies point out that the average household rate for electricity fizzled to a record low in 1969 and has gone up only a little since then.
There are some good reasons for wanting to switch to electricity, but price isn’t likely to become one of them. In several parts of the country, annual home heating bills now run around twice as high for electricity as for gas or oil.
Moreover, under the traditional rate structure for electricity, the first couple of hundred kilowatt-hours have been the most expensive. Additional blocks of power cost progressively less, so that the more electricity you use, the lower the average rate per kilowatt-hour. Under pressure from ecologists and others, however, rates in some cities have been tilted less favorably than before toward big residential users. In a recent rate rise granted to Detroit Edison by the Michigan Public Service Commission, households using 200 kw-h per month got no increase. Those using 500 kw-h pay about 11% more than before, those using 1,000 kw-h about 17% more and those using 1,500 kw-h about 20% more. Households with electric heat are in the l,000-to-l,500- kw-h bracket. Utilities in New York City and Vermont also recently raised their rates substantially more for heating customers than for smaller users.
It’s no secret that gas and oil are the cheapest heating fuels in most areas. Studies by a state agency and a utility make it possible to show a rough comparison of heating costs for two four-bedroom, insulated houses, one in New York City and the other in Sacramento, Calif. The New York costs are for a nine-month heating season. Those for Sacramento include some heat to take the chill off cool summer nights; no cost is given for oil because it is seldom used on the West Coast.
These figures may not exactly parallel those in your area. A local builder will be able to confirm whether the general pattern is the same.
In the distant future, all fossil fuels will probably run out, and everyone will use electric heat, generated perhaps from nuclear fusion, ocean currents or the sun. An electric baseboard heating system will be, as it is today, easily controlled from room to room, clean and inexpensive to maintain, and a liberator of space now taken up with furnaces and oil tanks. For a good many years, though, most households will pay dearly for those amenities.