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What exactly happened?

During their investigation, KPRC discovered that the usage rates recorded by CenterPoint Texas, which owns the Houston lines and meters, can take a few days to recalibrate with real-time measurements. This likely explains why Wolcott saw inaccurate power usage readings during a city-wide power outage.

However, if Wolcott hadn’t signed up to receive notifications from Smart Meter Texas, the company that runs his power meter, there’s a good chance he never would have realized that he was being charged in the first place.

The reporter who investigated this story, Amy Davis, said she initially hadn’t signed up for digital notifications herself. But after speaking with Wolcott, she turned hers on and was surprised by what she discovered.

“I was shocked on Saturday — when nobody was home — how much electricity I’m using just to keep my house at 78 degrees,” she said during her broadcast report.

When Wolcott first noticed the usage disparity, he called his electric provider, Gexa Energy.

“[They] said, ‘We have nothing to do with that. We just bill for basically what we’re told you use,’” he told KPRC 2. The news outlet reported that CenterPoint is the one who informs Gexa about what to charge its customers.

Alyssia Oshodi, a corporate representative from CenterPoint, appeared on KRPC’s broadcast to tell viewers not to worry if they see usage disparities for a few days. The system uses automatic reporting, and sometimes it just needs a few days to calibrate the actual usage.

“The system will go back and basically interrogate the data and be able to get the correct — in this case — no usage that actually occurred,” she explained.

She added that customers should call their utility company if the numbers are still off after a week has passed.

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How to avoid paying more on your utility bills

Keeping an eye on how you use utilities can not only make you aware of possible mishaps like in Wolcott’s case, but it can also inspire you to limit usage and lower your bills.

For example, finding other ways to keep your house cool during the summer months — that don’t require turning on your air conditioner — can help save you money.

Ovens can heat a home quickly. As a solution, consider cooking with appliances such as slow cookers, microwaves and toaster ovens for energy-saving options. Where possible, doing the majority of your meal prep in the evenings, when the cooler temperatures hit, will also help.

A ceiling fan can also make a room feel cooler and only uses roughly 10% of the energy of an air conditioner.

In addition, CNN reported that drinking water — even if it’s lukewarm — is an easy and cost-effective way to stay cool without resorting to switching on the air conditioner.

For laundry, use cold water and wash full loads instead of multiple smaller ones to save on energy.

New windows and doors will also go a long way toward helping you keep costs down. Having properly sealed doors and windows reduces energy loss. In fact, heat gain or heat loss can account for 25%-30% of your home’s heating and cooling costs.

Although replacing these items can be a costly venture, it might be worth the price tag in the long run. If not, consider checking for broken seals around doors or windows that can be easily fixed after a quick trip to the hardware store.

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Sabina Wex is a writer and podcast producer in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Fast Company, CBC and more.

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