By Adrian Byram
All of us living at Rossmoor depend on reliable and affordable electricity. Many of us depend on electrically powered medical devices. This column focuses on practical actions you can take before this year’s fast-approaching wildfire season – and the looming threat of public safety power shutoffs – to ensure you have a reliable source of electricity, especially for your critical medical devices.
Reliability is important, but so is affordability. Over the past five years, PG&E’s rates have risen 4.3% per year. By 2030, you will probably be paying $200-$450 per month for electricity, 60% more than today. So, this column also suggests ways you can save on your monthly electric bill – and even reduce it to nearly zero, no matter how much PG&E raises rates.
How can you improve the reliability of your electric power?
You need your very own stash of electrical power so when PG&E shuts down, you have hours or even days of electricity to power critical medical devices, or even your whole house. There are two ways to do this.
Option 1: Portable power stations
These are simple devices that can power an oxygen generator or CPAP machine for eight to 12 hours. When you get a power station, you plug it into the wall and plug your critical device into the power station.
Under normal circumstances, the power station routes electricity from the wall directly to your device. However, the instant PG&E power goes off, the power station automatically switches to its internal battery – your critical medical device continues to run without missing a beat and without any intervention on your part.
Portable power stations cost $1,000-$1,200. If you need help setting it up, Rossmoor’s Handyman Service can do the job for you.
Warning: The portable power stations described here are battery-powered and certified for indoor use. Gasoline-powered generators can also supply backup power, but should NEVER be used indoors. Even outdoors, they are completely unsuitable at Rossmoor because of noise and fire danger.
To learn more about portable power stations and how to recharge them using solar power, check out www.sustainablerossmoor.org/backup-power.
Option 2: Whole house battery backup.
This option keeps your whole house running no matter what happens to PG&E. Your house is powered by a high-capacity battery mounted on an outside wall of your manor. During the day, the battery continuously recharges from solar panels on your roof; at night, if the battery is not sufficiently full, it draws power from PG&E.
When a PG&E outage occurs, the system automatically and instantaneously switches to the battery to provide all the power you need. In a multi-day outage, you can live normally, using all your lights, oven and any critical medical devices. (You may need to restrict use of your A/C.) Unfortunately, whole house battery backup systems are not cheap – $25,000-$30,000 including the rooftop solar system (after 26% federal tax credit). However, the system will eventually pay for itself in electricity savings. To learn more, visit www.sustainable rossmoor.org/backup-power.
How can you make electric power more affordable?
Here’s one tip to quickly save a few dollars a month on your bill. And one tip to cut your bill to under $20 a month.
Tip #1: If someone in your household depends on a medical device like an oxygen generator, nebulizer or CPAP, then you qualify for a medical baseline discount that’s probably worth $10-$15 a month. Due to COVID-19, you no longer need a physician’s signature to apply; just Google “PG&E Medical Baseline” or go to www.rossmoorepo.org/residents.htm to find the application form.
Tip #2: The best way to reduce your bill and insulate yourself from PG&E rate increases is to install roof-top solar. When the sun is shining brightly, your solar panels not only power your entire house, they send power back to PG&E – effectively running your electricity meter backwards. During nighttime and cloudy days, you draw power from PG&E, so your meter runs forwards during these times.
Thinking about “Going Solar?”
Over the course of a year, a properly sized solar system sends about as much power back to PG&E as you draw from it, so your average bill drops to about $20 a month. And best of all, when PG&E raises rates, it has to pay you more for the power you send back to it – balancing out the rate increase.
Roof-top solar systems have come down in price. You can get one installed for $9,000-$12,000 after the 26% federal tax credit. (Note this credit drops to 22% at the end of 2020 and expires at the end of 2021.) As soon as you install one, your electricity bill drops to about $20 a month. This means you recover the capital cost of the system in about eight years and enjoy almost free electricity for years afterward.
To learn everything you need to go solar, check out www.sustainablerossmoor.org/residential-solar/.
Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, July 8, 2020. Adrian Byram is chair of the Residential Solar Committee for Sustainable Rossmoor. Email Byram at firstname.lastname@example.org