Dear PoPville – “our Pepco bill for Dec-January is $245, over $100 more than last month”


“Dear PoPville,

I just got our Pepco bill for Dec-January and it is $245, over $100 more than last month. I have NEVER had an electric bill this high. My place is a 2 bed, 1 bath condo. That is higher than my friend’s bill for her 6 person row house in Columbia heights. The weirdest thing of all is that when I checked the daily usage in my bill, my highest daily use for reported for the day in January when we had an over 24 hour power outage. How can my bill possibly be accurate? Are they just making this stuff up as they go along?

What are my recourses for disputing this bill?

P.S. We only moved in about 2 months ago (mid October), and the place was empty for about 6 months before that, so there is no historic data.”

62 Comment

  • What powers your heat?

  • HaileUnlikely

    I’d recommend checking the following three things: total kWh used, rate per kWh for generation, and number of days of your billing cycle. Also, what kind of heat do you have? I have an electric heat pump. It is very efficient when the temperature is above the high 30’s, so-so between high 20’s and high 30’s, and horrendously inefficient if the temperature is mid 20’s or below. Thus, with a few days below mid 20’s, I used much much more energy than usual last month. If you have an electric heat pump or electric furnace and your friend with the big house has gas heat, I have no difficulty whatsoever imagining your bill being higher than his last month. Also, for no reason other than an oddity of how Pepco does business, my last two billing cycles were 29 days and 38 days. Obviously variation in number of days in the billing cycle won’t make the difference between $145 vs. $245, but sometimes the differences are large enough to account for a substantial proportion of it.

    • west_egg

      Excellent advice, especially considering they only moved in a couple of months ago — Pepco is sometimes weird about billing when you first move in.
      Also look to see if your reading is “estimated” or “actual,” — if it’s the latter, request that they come out and take an actual reading.

      • We had this problem when we moved years ago into a new rowhouse-to-condos conversion. Their “estimate” was way high, probably because they were basing it on the history of the whole building. Once they came out and actually read the meter they gave us a credit.

      • Aren’t most of the meters “smart meters” now, that are read remotely?

    • This is pretty spot on. We have a heat pump for half of our house (and to make matters worse, it’s mounted on the roof). When the temp gets low, you’re basically operating on toaster-like, super inefficient heat.

    • Hey, I’m the OP. A few things I’ve discovered since sending my email to PoP last night: We did have a longer billing cycle (42 days vs 30). I did the calculations, and we’ve basically increased our energy costs from about $4.70/day to $5.80/day. You’re also right on about the gas. We are all electric powered, by friend does have gas, which I forgot about. Any tips for more efficient energy usage with an electric pump or are we just stuck with it?

      I was also wrong about which day our power was out. That day is indeed shown as less energy (but not zero and not the lowest day in the cycle), but the next two days are through the roof. Those days were bitterly cold too if you remember, so I guess the pump was working extra hard to reheat and repower everything. I suppose there isn’t anything I can demand from Pepco in regards to that, although I am convinced it is related to the outage.

      • HaileUnlikely

        I used significantly more energy than usual on Jan 6 and 7, and approximately double my winter daily average on Jan 8, which I suspect is entirely due to the cold. Other than investing several thousand dollars in a more efficient system (heat pump or otherwise – some heat pumps are much more efficient than others, nevermind comparison to gas), the best you can do on a very cold day is probably to set your thermostat to the lowest temp you can stand (for me that’s 60) and leave it at that setting as long as it’s stupid cold like Jan 6-8 was. I normally set mine to drop to 61 when I’m sleeping and when I’m away from home and back up to something in the 63-66 range at times when I’m typically home and awake, but when it’s crazy cold, the system works significantly harder to raise the temperature than to just maintain it, so just maintain it. Other than that, just do your best to seal off any air leaks in your place (caulk, weatherstrip, etc wherever you need to, especially if there’s anywhere where you can actually feel a draft).

        • HaileUnlikely

          p.s. I did not experience any outage where I live. My double-the-usual usage on January 8 had nothing to do with recovering from any outage, yet I have no doubt it was correct. My heat pump was in Aux mode most of the day just trying to hold the temperature at 60.

        • The thought of keeping my house at 60 degrees is my personal hell (which ironically seems to be a cold day).

  • Me too—my PEPCO bill was totally, bat-S insane also during the last cycle. I am new in the residence though, similarly, and have no clue of any context for the bill. I was kind of giving up, and waiting until next month for some basis.

  • Mine is crazy high this month as well- like double what it normally is. No change in behavior and I don’t run the heat a lot. No idea…

    • You may not run it a lot, but if the temps outside are colder, it takes more energy to maintain the same temperature.

    • Hey OP here. I talked to Pepco today and they said that they are switching over to a new billing system or something and essentially everyone will have an abnormally long billing cycle in their bill for this month. I didn’t notice that before, but it was a 42 day cycle instead of a 30 days cycle. It’s still an increase when I calculated it out per day, but definitely not as insane as the original sticker shock.

  • It’s worth checking if the bill was based on an actual reading or an estimation.

    • Seconded. One of our bills went through the roof over the previous year and when I called, they said it was because the previous bills were based on estimates and they had just replaced the meter so now it was accurate.

  • Our Pepco bill nearly doubled this month from $86 to $168. I noted the longer billing cycle and took into account that we traveled last month, but doubling seems absurd. This is our first winter in our home, so I have no clue how to check accuracy.

    • HaileUnlikely

      You probably don’t have any means of checking the accuracy with respect to whether you used the number of kWh that Pepco says you used, but you can gain some insight into what is going on by looking at the length of your billing cycle (it varies), your actual kWh used (it is influenced by lots of things, most notably the weather if you have electric heat and hot water, and also obviously by the length of the billing cycle), and your rate for generation (which can vary if you are not on a fixed-rate plan). My bill was way high, too, but after observing that my billing period was 38 days long (vs. 29 for the last one), and there were some cold-ass days in there, I have no reason to believe that mine was in error. I don’t know how the rates are for conventional power these days – I buy 100% wind and voluntarily pay a premium for it.

  • Woah, that is crazy! I am guessing your heat runs on electricity? I live in a 3 bedroom, 2 bath rowhouse and the highest we have seen in the past 4 months is $45 (December bill). Now, our heat runs on gas so our most recent Washington Gas bill was higher ($175). Before this I lived in a small 1 bedroom apartment and the Pepco bill was never more than $45 and I believe the heat was electric.

  • If your cycle included the insanely FREEZING days we’ve had recently, then there ya have it. :-\ I think most people this month will be shocked by their bills.

    • OP noted that they were impacted by the power outage recently. The power outage happened to be the two coldest days we’ve had in January. There’s obviously some problem if they are showing activity on those days when the power was out, but to me that might mean this is estimated and they estimated higher charges those days due to the colder temps. If it’s an bill based on actual usage, well you should absolutely dispute that, particularly on the days they are showing usage when you had no power at all.

      • Hey, I’m the OP. I made a mistake, the two highest days were the days immediately following the outage (the outage day does show low, but not zero and not the lowest day in the cycle). I’m guessing the pump had to work extra hard to heat up on those cold days, especially after having no power at all. I just wish we could get even a small credit to offset this. Everything in our condo is electric. It was an actual reading too.

        • I feel you. I had the same issue. It took two full days of running on aux heat for my place to get back to a reasonable temperature.

  • Give Pepco a call. Their customer service can be surprisingly helpful. I had a crazy bill the first month I moved into my home. I gave them a call and asked for an explanation about why it was so high and if they had tips for how I could lower it. Just a few days later I got a revised bill that was half the price. It’s worth trying!

    • Why would anyone do something sensible like that when they can just contact a local blog instead?

      • justinbc

        Because the Internet has TEH ANSARSZ!

      • I did both. Don’t knock contacting the blog. It’s helpful to go through all routes and contact both locals AND Pepco. People have their own experiences with services in the city and might have additional resources. As a rule of thumb, when I have issues with something in the city, I check with my good friend who is a DC housing and government expert/hobbyist, then will search PoP, then will usually contact the city or appropriate service provider. The reason for this is that people who have been through it will often have advice for you to think about as you contact the city or provider.

  • Our current Pepco bill was about 1.6 times the previous bill, but the current billing cycle was about 1.5 times the length of the previous, so that explains almost the entire difference. My guess is that most of OP’s increase is probably due to the same thing; if the place is heated by electricity then that would certainly explain the rest. (And if the previous electric bill was over $100 for a 2br condo then I am assuming heat is electric.)

  • There was a notice tucked in with this month’s bill noting that Pepco has switched their monitoring system, so the billing cycle is much longer than normal on your current bill.

  • My bill was also unusually high, and what’s weirder is the day-by-day breakdown shows the high-usage days were days when the average temperature was quite warm for the month and when I wasn’t home to use the power to do anything but run heat.

  • +1 on the heat pump explanation above. If you have one, once the temp drops too far “emergency” heat kicks on, in many cases this is a resistance heating coil. We have such a system in our condo, and I fully expect our bill to be much higher for January.
    I’ll also offer my strongest possible recommendation for the Nest programmable thermostat. We put one in last April, and it’s absolutely fantastic. Our electric consumption has dropped close to 25%. Besides paying for itself, it’s so easy to use. Particularly fond of controlling it from my phone.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Have you experienced any power outages since getting Nest, and if so, how has it performed when power comes back on? I am very interested in buying one myself, but I had heard that at least earlier version of Nest had an issue where they’d either stay off or default to something nonsensical (I don’t remember the details, but in any event – do something undesirable) after an outage, which could lead to big trouble if the outage occurred while you were away for a while. Also, with your Nest, can you program it so that it slowly “steps up” the temperature setting so that it doesn’t cause your aux mode to come on if you try to raise the temp by more than 2-3 degrees at a time? (e.g., if I try to increase my temperature from 61 to 65, it kicks on my aux mode, but if I could program it to call for 62, then 63, then 64, then 65 I could prevent the aux from coming on unless it was too cold).

      • My Nest has come back on fine after a power outage. Not sure about your second question. I rarely mess with my Nest now that it has learned my summer/winter temp preferences and schedule. Its really pretty automatic.

      • I think the “early-on” feature might help with your second question. It starts heating early to reach the desired temperature at the desired time. So if you’re at 61 all day and set for 65 at 6pm it will begin to rise before 6pm. I’m not sure it won’t use auxiliary heat, but it would be a more gradual increase.
        I wish there was an option to just never use auxiliary heat.

        • HaileUnlikely

          Yeah, thanks. I have one of those programmable ones that just lets you set it for 4 periods per day. I set it for 61 when not home, 63 for when I usually get home, and then manually nudge it up to 65 when I actually get home. The real way to never make auxiliary heat come on would be to have a programmable thermostat with a few hundred periods per day so you can program it to ramp up from, say, 61 to 65 by half a degree at a time at 15 minute intervals (e.g., have the setpoint be 61.0 at 4 PM, 61.5 at 4:15, 62.0 at 4:30, and so on). Then aux wouldn’t come on unless it was just too cold for the heat pump to extract heat from the air at all (depends on type of refrigerant, but probably mid 20’s or so).

      • Nest performs just fine in a power outage. It’s primarily powered by your HVAC system, but it has a substantial internal battery. In fact, it even has a micro USB port on the back, so you can just pull it off the wall (comes straight out) and charge it with any standard cell phone charger. When power to the Nest was unexpectedly cut during some work on the roof unit, we discovered that it powers itself for almost two days. No programming is lost when it eventually dies. As to being away during an outage, as long as your home wifi comes back online, you can just verify everything remotely.
        As to using aux heat or not, it’s super smart about it. More info here:

        • HaileUnlikely

          Cool, thanks. I might get one. I have Pepco’s EnergyWise Rewards thermostat right now. It’s better than a 100% manual thermostat, but I’d love for it to do a better job not using aux mode.

    • I have heard many good things about the Nest thermostat. Any recommendations as to where to get a good deal on one?

      • I don’t think they go on sale that often – I’ve only seen them on sale during Black Friday. Some of the third party energy providers like Direct Energy have rebates for a free one though.

      • Yes, no sales really. I’d go with Love my nest (2 bed/2 bath condo) and it really saves you on the bills in the long run!

  • I called Pepco and the reason for the increase is because the billing cycle is around 45 days this bill. Normally it is between 25 and 30 days long.

  • We had the same thing happen. I don’t want to hear that those few days caused it to go up that high because we have gas heat AND we have lived here almost 9 years. There were much colder days and more of them in prior years. We also have the most energy efficient furnace and central air unit you can buy. Our neighbors do not and their bill is cheaper. I also decided to lower our thermostat to 66 this year instead of our usual 72. Yet it is still double. I had Pepco come out check the meter and they say nothing is wrong. Who to trust now?

  • Our bill was also significantly higher than usual – and it appears that whatever this new charge called “New Electric Distribution Charges” listed on the bill for $76.40 was the main culprit for the increase.

    The next question is – “What the fuck are New Electric Distribution Charges?”

    • HaileUnlikely

      Pepco’s terminology is odd, but it’s not a new charge in the sense you’re thinking. Your bill will show “Balance from previous bill” and “new charges” for “distribution” and “generation.” They just refer to the charges for distribution and for generation from previous bills not yet paid and for the current billing period. Assuming you pay your bill in full every month, you will see same amount shown here as “new charges” under “balance from previous bill” next month.

    • This seems to be the culprit on my usually high bill as well…and I’d love to know if anyone has sorted this out.

  • HaileUnlikely

    Was your power out for literally the entire day when it showed highest usage? If so, that’s troubling, call Pepco. (I missed that detail when I wrote my previous comment, sorry.) If it came back on toward the end of the day, your heat and hot water heater would have had to work mighty hard (and use more energy) to get back up to your temperature settings.

  • My bill was crazy high this month as well! My jaw dropped. More than 2x as high as it’s ever been–twice as high as in December. However, I talked my former roommate, who used to be responsible for the electric bill, and she noted that it has been almost as high in years past in the January/February months. You can chalk it up to the cold. I will take solace in having folks to commiserate with!

  • Try to get them to triple check that you are paying for the correct meter. I paid for a different unit’s electric for a couple of years before they fixed the issue and I was refunded well over 1k once the issue was resolved. Of course, PEPCO didn’t believe us and wouldn’t send anyone out to look at it until we paid for someone to come out and inspect our furnace, because we couldn’t imagine why the bills were so high when we rarely turned on the heat.

  • Somebody likes to use electric space heaters.

    • Or grow lights. 😉

    • Actually I was going to suggest the OP use a small space heater in the room she’s actually in, and turn the main system down to 60 or so. Our space heater pulls 750W and keeps the bedroom toasty on Low, and our central heat pump uses 3000W, so the savings can add up on a very cold night. Programmable thermostat helps, too.

  • Mine was $100 more than usual and I have gas heat! I am going to review the billing period and details closely.

  • Pepco is upgrading their account and billing system and people are getting bills that are up to 42 days long. It’s on their website (I was looking at it last night since we hadn’t gotten a bill we’d expected). I agree with the others who say check the number of days in the billing cycle and note that it was quite cold last month.

  • In addition to calling Pepco, log on to your online account. In the “Energy Use and Bill Data” section, there is a place called “Bill Highlights”. It may shed some light. For example, mine tells me that this bill was a longer billing period. In that section, there is a link to “Bill Analysis”. This gives you more in depth analysis of the bill. For example, it tells me my bill went up $X. I click on that amount and it analyzes the cost impact of the longer billing cycle and the change in the cost/kWh in energy. It is actually really helpful information.

  • Glad I’m not the only one. Ours was more than double December’s and covered the holidays (all roommates out of town for a week) and the outage. Unbelievable.

  • Call to dispute, I’ve had similar situations several times over the years with Pepco and had minimal trouble disputing. They will connect you with “enviro dept” to investigate.

  • I know a lady who never cooks on her electric stove, doesn’t turn her heat on (for fear she’ll have a large electric bill), goes to her son’s house in MD EVERY weekend, and rarely turns on a light bulb (she is legally blind). This woman is over 70 years old and lives in affordable housing. How can her bills be more than her rent?! Something is not right here.

  • It’s still not clear (to me, anyway) if you’ve got electric baseboard heating, or a heat pump. Condos (how does one share a heat pump?) commonly have electric baseboard, which is the most expensive kind of heating there is. As for heat pumps, their efficiency drops rapidly as the temperature goes down. They’re wonderful in moderate cold, but not in mid-January, serious cold.

    Re the condo, much depends on how much of your apartment is exposed. A top-floor condo, for example, has much more exterior surface exposed to cold (albeit through insulation) than a mid-level condo.

    Gas, by the way, is the least costly heat source. It’s great, if you can get it.

  • I received a bill 3x the expected bill. PEPCO’s billing cycle accounts for some of that but in talking with their folks on the phone today they upgraded their systems starting on 5 January. That upgrade kicked in a new rate. That new rate is approximately 2x higher than the old one. So my bill from 1 December to 16 January was billed at the new rate, even though that service didn’t kick in until 5 January. I’ve filed a complaint with OPC in an attempt to have my bill divided into original rate (1 December to 4 January) and new rate (4 Jan to 16 Jan). We shall see.

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