Short of buying solar panels or a new air conditioner, Rosedale homeowner Clint Phillips has done just about all he can do to control his summer electric bills without sacrificing his family's comfort.
Some of the steps he has taken -- such as analyzing his online SmartMeter data, and signing up for a "SmartRate" plan -- came courtesy of his electricity provider, Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
Other measures he more or less invented himself. Instead of leaving on his coffee maker for two hours a day (at a cost of $25 a month), he pours it into a thermos as soon as it's brewed. He also lowers his air conditioner to 72 degrees at about 5 a.m., then at 2 p.m. he lowers it to 80 degrees, thereby reducing his total monthly usage by as much as 15 percent.
Phillips said his monthly bill of about $550 in peak summer heat hasn't gone down noticeably, probably because of PG&E's periodic rate increases. But his bills haven't gone up, either.
"I think I have done what I can do," he said confidently.
Energy efficiency is the other side of Bakersfield's struggle with steep electric bills. Much attention recently has focused on problems with PG&E SmartMeters, the way its tiered rate structure has grown increasingly lopsided, and the ever-rising costs that are passed on to PG&E's customers.
But one thing the utility and its critics agree on is that ratepayers can and do save money when they reduce their energy consumption.
As Phillips' case illustrates, there are many things even the most frugal people can do to keep down their energy costs, often with PG&E's direct assistance.
Spending to save money
Investing in energy-efficient appliances helps, too, as the experience of Bakersfield retiree Bruce Rapp shows.
When his 3,300-square-foot home was being built in 2002, Rapp bought a high-efficiency air-conditioning system, a whole house fan to make the most of cool morning air, and had only fluorescent lights installed. He also spent big on an energy-saving washer and dryer.
Now his bills run about $400 a month in the summer. And although he said he probably could afford to pay more, having invested wisely over the years, he doesn't want to.
"If I got a choice between sending my money to PG&E or going out to dinner," he said, "I'm going out to dinner."
Help from PG&E
PG&E offers various programs and services to help its customers reduce their usage, from incentives designed to lower consumption at times of peak demand, to a new option that allows the company to turn down air-conditioners remotely.
Free home energy audits are available, too. When customers request one (by calling 800-743-5000), the company sends out an inspector who tours the home looking at things like attic insulation, air-conditioning units and pool pumps.
"Basically, it's an evaluation of your home's energy efficiency," local PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles said. "They can be pretty in-depth."
The inspector's recommendations can be wide-ranging, and may include investment suggestions. Boyles said there's no obligation to carry out any changes.
"It's just basically someone saying, 'If you're looking at your home energy bill, this is some stuff I'd do,'" he said.
Saving the planet
Some efficiency improvements are simple, like unplugging appliances that use energy even when they're turned off.
"Anything with an AC adapter, anything with a clock or a light, anything that uses electricity should be put on a power strip and turned off when not in use," Mindy Spatt, spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, a San Francisco-based consumer advocacy group, wrote in an e-mail.
She added that an estimated 5 percent of the nation's electricity usage is wasted on stand-by power.
"Simple conservation measure(s) can help consumers save money -- and the planet," she wrote.