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SmartHub Lets You Peek Inside Your Home, Even When You’re Away

By | 2017-01-19T18:44:27+00:00 June 14th, 2016|News|

Ravalli Electric Co-op members who haven’t taken advantage of SmartHub yet are missing out on an important opportunity. It’s not just a portal for online bill pay, although that is one of its many uses. SmartHub features powerful tools to help users monitor their electricity usage and gain a clear understanding of the corresponding charges on their monthly bills

Members that have summer residences or spend part of their year away from their Bitterroot homes can especially benefit from using SmartHub. It’s a great way for them to monitor the electricity usage in their homes and monitor any changes that could indicate a problem. For instance, a spike in usage unrelated to weather may be caused by a malfunctioning pump or water heater.

SmartHub may be accessed one of two ways; the web version is available from any web enabled device by clicking on the link at www.ravallielectric.com, and the mobile app can be downloaded and installed on your mobile phone or tablet via your device’s app store. Either version will provide secure access to the member’s account and it takes less than three minutes to set up.

In addition to viewing bills, payment history and making payments, users have the ability to monitor and manage electric usage from afar with the use of graphics and usage markers. Usage markers (date range or point in time) can be set up to monitor changes in usage such as when a family arrived for vacation or headed back home. It’s a good idea to check usage after leaving to verify nothing in the house was left on. Local weather data can even be added to the graph to establish whether a rise in electric usage is a result of cold winter temperatures.

SmartHub can give peace of mind when members are enjoying warmer winter temperatures outside of Montana. There is no need to wait to talk with a Member Services representative with billing questions related to usage. Members can view their safe and secure account data 24/7. And if further information or assistance is required, members have access to the same, “real-time” data REC staff has, resulting in less confusion.

By utilizing SmartHub, members can gain a better understanding of how their part-time residences use electricity when they’re not there. As a result, they will be able to more closely adhere to their budgets and will become more energy efficient at the same time.

Contact Ravalli Electric Co-op if you have questions or need help signing up for SmartHub.

How to Pay Your Bill Online Without Being Duped by a Third Party Payment Processor

By | 2017-01-05T19:11:50+00:00 April 25th, 2016|News|

Ravalli Electric Co-op (REC) offers members the convenience of an on-line bill payment feature accessible from our website at www.ravallielectric.com. Users may click on “Login to SmartHub” or “Pay My Bill” to use this feature. New users will need to register the first time they visit by entering their account number, last name, and email address. It’s a simple way for members to pay their bills and track their energy usage.

Over the past several months REC has heard from members who thought they were paying their electric bills through our website, but were confused about being charged a service fee. One member was even charged a late fee on her next bill because REC received payment after the due date, even though she submitted it well ahead of the deadline.

It turns out, if you “Google” Ravalli Electric Co-op to find our website, there are several third party payment companies that will also come up in your search. These payment processors will gladly process your payment if you click on them.

The most prominent Google result, doxo.com, comes up number two under ravallielectric.com. The payment page even displays the Ravalli Electric Co-op logo, so it can be a source of confusion for someone paying online for the first time. Doxo, and others are legitimate payment processors (Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, is an investor) and allow you to pay multiple bills on the same website. But they do make their money by charging an additional fee for the convenience.

If you deliberately choose to utilize a third party payment processor, remember, they will likely charge you an additional fee and you will have little control over when the payment is delivered to us.
To avoid using third party payment processors by mistake, keep the following in mind when paying your bill online:

  • Type ravallielectric.com directly into your browser window rather than using Google to find the website. (if you do use Google, be sure to click on the first result and note the website address is www.ravallielectric.com)
  • Visit ravallielectric.com prior to paying your bill to familiarize yourself with the look and feel of the website. This will make it easier for you to recognize when you are on our site vs. a lookalike.
  • Remember, if you are being charged a service charge, you are on a third party site. Ravalli Electric will not charge you an additional fee to pay your bill online through our SmartHub payment processor.

If you have questions about online bill pay, don’t hesitate to call the REC office at 961-3001. We would be glad to help walk you through the process.

Understanding Demand

By | 2017-01-19T18:44:27+00:00 April 19th, 2016|News|

If you were one of the three hundred Ravalli Electric Co-op members who attended our 81st Annual Meeting on March 19th, you will likely recall a video and brief mention about a “demand” line item that will soon be appearing on your bill. In fact, you may have already seen this calculation on the last bill you received.

But what is it?

Basically, demand equates to the load that is put on the system at a given time. For example, peak demand for Ravalli Electric Co-op generally occurs in the cold winter morning hours when members are getting ready for work. The system has to work harder at that time to accommodate so many members using a large amount of electricity (electric heaters, water heaters, and appliances) at the same time. Although this level of demand is not sustained around the clock throughout the day or the year, the system has to be able to accommodate this when it does occur.

There is a cost associated with the system’s ability to handle this demand in the form of reserves that can be called upon whenever the demand on the system reaches above anticipated capacity. These reserves ensure that even when there is a tremendous load placed upon the system, it has the means to continue delivering electricity to our members’ homes.

There are several ways we can compare demand on the electrical grid to other more familiar scenarios. For instance, I drive a pickup with a turbo diesel engine. Most of the time, I don’t need the additional power that my truck affords me because I am simply driving it back and forth to work.

So why have it? For the security of knowing that when I hook up to my horse trailer containing nearly 5,000 pounds of horse flesh, my truck can pull it. That is the peak demand for my pickup.

Why is demand showing up on your bill?Demand water image

Although you are currently seeing a 0.00 charge line item on your bill, there will likely be a charge associated with demand at some point in the future.  The tiered billing approach REC currently employs does have a demand component to it.  Simply put, the more electricity you use, the higher kWh rate you pay for it.

The drawback of the current tiered approach to billing is that it allows some users to pay a lower kWh rate even though their demand, at certain times, is high. This might apply to residents who frequently travel, distributive generators, members who use a variety of heating sources, those who run a business out of their home (commercial accounts are already charged for demand), and any number of scenarios where overall usage is relatively low, but at certain times demand is very high. The current rate structure allows for a cost shift to occur, meaning certain users pay more than their fair share for those reserves mentioned earlier, even though some of those members at a lower rate tier are still utilizing those same reserves.

The separate demand charge would eliminate this cost shift and allow all members to pay their fair share for additional power generating resources.

Seeing demand on the bill now will allow users to get acquainted with the concept of demand and how they use energy long before a charge is ever associated with it.

If you have questions about demand and what you can do to decrease it, contact Member Services at 961-3001.

Water Heater Standards: Fact vs. Fiction

By | 2017-01-19T18:44:28+00:00 March 2nd, 2016|News|

35517402_mlYou may have heard that the federal efficiency standards for water heaters increased in April 2015. Perhaps you have also noticed the propane industry using this change as an opportunity to encourage homeowners to trade out their electric water heaters with propane models. The truth is, electric water heaters remain a convenient, efficient and cost-effective choice. Here’s what you should know:

 Propane claims the new standards will make it more difficult to replace your existing electric water heater.

What may not be clear is the efficiency standard applies to ALL water heaters, not just electric models. Electric water heaters smaller than 55 gallons are now required to meet an energy factor (EF) of .95 rather than the previous standard of .91. That means electric water heaters of this size must be 95% efficient. For propane and natural gas models of the same size, the EF increased from .58 to .60. Most residential water heaters on the REC system are between 40 to 50 gallons. Manufacturers are easily meeting these standards on water heaters in this size range so most members should have no trouble upgrading when the time comes. In fact, REC has recommended water heaters with an EF of .95 for many years.

For water heaters larger than 55 gallons, the standards have increased in both electric and propane water heaters as well. The EF for electric water heaters of this size has increased to 2.0 (requiring models to be 200% efficient) while propane water heaters require an EF of .75.  To accomplish the required EF in these larger models, manufacturers are using more advanced technology.

Electric water heaters at this capacity have transitioned to heat pump or hybrid water heaters, while propane and natural gas water heaters larger than 55 gallons need to be draft induced models.

While REC members with 60 – 80 gallon electric water heaters will be affected by the new federal standards if their existing water heaters require a replacement, they do have options. They can install a highly efficient heat pump water heater (for which incentives may be available) or downsize their tank to one of 50 gallons with an EF of .95.

Propane claims to be more efficient.

The standards for electric water heaters allow for 5% of the electricity used to heat the water to be wasted, while the standards for gas models allow for up to 40% of propane used to go up the chimney as waste heat.

The efficiency of all water heaters can be increased by insulating about 5 feet of hot and cold water lines on top of the tank. Further, efficiency of an electric tank sitting on a concrete floor can be improved by placing a 2’ x 2’ x 2” sheet of blu-board foam insulation beneath the tank to reduce conductive heat loss. A propane tank may not be insulated in this fashion because of where the burner is located and the potential fire hazard.

Propane Claims to be more cost effective.

 A new 50 gallon, 95% efficient electric tank can be purchased for around $535. A 50 gallon 60% efficient propane tank will cost around $585 plus an additional $200 – $300 worth of parts and labor to hook-up the propane line and vent it through the roof.

While the larger 55+ gallon electric heat pump or hybrid models start at $200 more than the smaller models, an equivalent propane draft-induced water heater can cost twice as much as its smaller counterpart (and still requires the additional parts and ductwork).

According to the yellow EnergyGuide label, the most efficient 50 gallon electric water heater will use 4,624 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. At the current REC rate of 6.42 cents per kWh, that equates to $264 a year or about $22 a month. At $1.98 a gallon a .60 EF propane water heater will cost about $488.93 a year or about $40.74 a month.  Plus, propane rates tend to be far more volatile than electricity, often rising in the winter when usage is highest.

Propane tanks also require a constant supply of outside air for combustion. In the winter months that adds up to an energy penalty as cold air enters the home and the heating system kicks on to warm that air. It costs probably $10 to $20 per winter to heat that outside air. Electric tanks require no outside air.

Electric water heaters have other advantages as well. An electric tank can be placed in a closet, basement or crawl space – just about anywhere it will fit. Propane tanks allow less design freedom because they must be vented up through the roof or out through the exterior walls. Not to mention, electric water heaters pose no risk of combustion or emitting dangerous carbon monoxide fumes, which account for nearly 500 deaths in the United States each year.

If you have questions or need help selecting an electric water heater please contact our Member Services department.

The Hidden Costs of Winter

By | 2017-01-19T18:44:28+00:00 November 16th, 2015|News|

With winter weather comes a whole mess of inconveniences. Chores like scraping icy windows, shoveling snow, and chopping ice to keep stock water drinkable, just to name a few. The last thing anyone wants is to see a huge spike in the electric bill that they just can’t seem to account for. If you’re wondering what on earth is driving your high winter bill, here are some common wintertime culprits and what you can do about them.

Space Heaters

  • Sizes from 600 – 1,500 watts on
  • 10 hours a day can drive your bill up by $12 to $29 per heater each month.
  • Space heaters should be used sparingly.

Please remember to contact us if you’re considering purchasing a new space heater. While the marketing material may say they’ll save you 50% on your electricity bill, the reality is a 1,500 watt heater by any manufacturer plugged in for 24 hours will use the same amount of electricity and cost you exactly the same!

Vehicle Engine Block Heaters

  • Sizes vary from 1,000 – 1,800 watts
  • Can add $23 to$42 per month

It is only necessary to plug most vehicles in for one or two hours before starting. Consider purchasing an outdoor rated timer and extension cord.

Stock Tank Heaters

  • Sizes vary from 750 to 1,500 watts
  • Can run $34 to $70 per month in the coldest months.

Look for low use or energy efficient models that are available. If you’re interested in installing a no-freeze insulated stock tank, contact REC for information on potential rebates.

Well Pumps

A 2 horse power (HP) pump with a broken shut-off switch or faulty check valve will run non-stop and consume about 1,500 watts per hour. This added load could boost your monthly bill by $69.

How to Test

If you suspect that your bill is artificially high, start with a load test. Turn all your breakers off and while one person watches the meter, turn each breaker on for a few seconds to see which one makes the cursor move faster. Start with the “double pole” breakers first. The faster the cursor moves, the more electricity is used by that circuit. Once you isolate the breaker, it should just be a matter of seeing what is hooked to that circuit.

For more information contact our Member Services Department 961-3001.

Community Solar is Coming

By | 2017-01-19T18:44:28+00:00 September 15th, 2015|News|

VALLEY Solar VertRavalli Electric Co-op is pleased to announce that plans to move forward with its proposed 88-unit community solar project were solidified last month.  The Co-op was notified in August that it was selected to receive a Rural Energy America Program (REAP) Grant from the USDA to offset the cost of construction.

REC members will now have the opportunity to participate in the program by purchasing the output from a single solar panel. The electricity generated by the solar array will then be credited back to participating members on an annual basis for 25 years (the anticipated life of the panel).

There are several benefits to a community solar program over installing panels at home, with the most obvious being cost. Consumers can often participate in community solar programs for less than $1,000, whereas a home system can cost 20 to 30 times more to install. Other factors including aesthetics and low sunlight conditions can also make installing panels at home less than ideal.

Community solar projects are becoming popular with many electric cooperatives throughout the country as member interest in alternative energy sources continues to grow. REC found this trend to be consistent locally as well when a survey earlier this year found nearly 30% of respondents in favor of community solar.

REC also understands the majority of members are sensitive to the potential for fee increases. That’s why the program is designed in such a way that construction will be paid for in full by grant funding and those members who choose to participate in it. As of now, members will be eligible to purchase the output from a single solar panel in the 88 panel array only if they do not currently have a solar system installed at their home. Members may be permitted to purchase additional panel output at a later time.

A single panel is expected to generate +/- 350 kWh per year, depending on sunlight and panel performance. That’s enough to power an EnergySTAR refrigerator/freezer for an entire year.

The Ravalli Electric Co-op community solar project will be constructed in a high-sun area along Highway 93 adjacent to the Woodside Substation in Victor. To learn more about the project and to reserve your panel output, visit ravallielectric.com or call 961-3001 to speak with Member Services.