Medical reduction in utility bills due to Diabetes -- what do you think?

So we got our first electricity bill in our new house and it was HUGE! PG&E said we were using much more than the average household of our size. We are trying to debug the cause – especially since our furnace was broken for a week of that time, our dryer was not used for the whole month (since washer was broken) and we were out of town with the house temp set to 57 for two additional weeks.

When we got our huge bill PG&E told us we may be eligible for something called “medical baseline” rates. Basically, if you have a disability that requires uninterrupted or excess power, you can be eligible for a higher allotment of power at the lowest rate. People in the medical baseline program are also prioritized during power outages to make sure they get power restored first.

Reading the pamphlet they sent us, I interpreted this to include only people who are on ventilators, home dialysis or medical equipment that uses a lot of energy, or with serious medical conditions where getting too hot or cold is life threatening.

But my husband said he thought we may qualify because we need to keep insulin cold. I thought that was preposterous, honestly – the amount of extra energy our insulin storage takes is maybe a few watts per day, and besides, even if the refrigerator died, that insulin would still be good for a month, which is certainly long enough to keep Samson alive. But when we called they said people with diabetes were actually one of the target groups they designed the program for in part.

I’m curious what other people think about using this program. I do think it would be helpful to be prioritized for power service restoration but I would want to be well down the list of people, above people with no special medical needs but well below those whose lives are threatened by a power outage – but I don’t think we actually require extra power to keep Samson healthy or safe and so do not feel comfortable applying for the program. But others may feel differently?

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I think many of us (me included) feel kind of funny thinking of our kids as having a disability. This leads to a lack of wanting to take part in programs such as the one your utility has.

I personally, would call the person in charge of the program and talk with them. You might indeed be in their target group, and if that is the case, you should use the program without worrying about it, if not, then so be it. Just be honest about your use case i.e. insulin storage.

Finally, I would find out where that electricity is being used. If you want, I could send you a kill-a-watt I have laying around and you could figure out what the problem is. I also, assume that you asked the utility for the history of electricity usage at your address, it is very helpful to identify when something broke, or when the neighbors tapped your line to start the marijuana grow next door. /sarc


Unless you looked at the utility meter when you moved in, it would be difficult to know if the starting number which the utility is using is correct.

I did have an erroneous meter reading issue. It was off by 1,000 kWh. Normally it would balance out in the wash but just as you were starting on a meter, this was when I was ending on a meter. [Utility initiated meter swapout / upgrade.] So it actually did matter. The utility company did correct the issue in part due to analyzing other months and agreeing that it would have been impossible for one month to be so drastically different from other months.

You can always track your meter readings (when I had the problem, I was then putting daily meter readings into Excel to be sure of my facts before I called the utility to complain) so as to project your current usage and determine if you currently are on track for a month’s worth of usage similar to what you were initially billed at. Depending on the results, there may be two very different plans of attack.

Regardless, as @Chris mentions, the kill-a-watt is great for checking out various devices in terms of their electricity usage. I have two of them and LOVE them. I determined that our fridge uses very low electricity until the internal incandescent light bulbs are factored in - so I replaced those with particularly fit LED bulbs. Total electricity usage (of fridge) is low enough now to run off a battery. (Which is my plan just a slow moving plan.) I found the Keurig uses so little electricity that it makes no sense to enable the auto power off (unless it makes you feel good). I found my desktop computer uses a (relatively) large amount of power so I make sure to drop it into sleep mode when nobody is using it. I could go on but it would get boring for most people. lol.

In terms of the particular program your utility runs, I am in completely agreement with @Chris. Be honest and just say what your situation is with no spin. If you fit the terms of the program then you fit. At that point it becomes entirely your personal comfort level whether you join the program or not.


How were you heating your house when the furnace was broken?

How many kWh did you use over what period?

How old is your “new” water heater?

I was actually thinking this as well. Ask for the historical usage. And see if you can smell anything (next door).

If you hadn’t cited a broken heater and travel, I would’ve figured you’d never paid for electricity (covered under previous rent by landlord or really small apartment) and were just surprised.

Also, I’ve thought about @Chris saying he doesn’t think of his kid being disabled. We’ve discussed this in regards to the free national parks pass that EH is entitled to as a diabetic. It seems strange to have a disability but be able to hike to a high peak.

I’m guessing that few people even know about the diabetes medical thing with the electric company! You guys also use computers to help with Samson’s diabetes treatments right? I’m not sure if you’ve got an UPS hooked up or only use laptops. But it seems like it might help in case of emergency.

Not strange at all. Many people with disabilities do this and all kinds of other things every day.

If diabetes is eligible, I’d use it. As others have said, I’d just be totally honest about the fact that you’re using it for insulin.

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I would have no qualms at all about using the program if it allows you to get priority recovery: what worries me most is losing power to our insulin fridge, and the possible consequences of it.

As for the $ savings, I would probably do just what @Chris suggests as well, i.e. call, explain the diabetes situation, and ask.

But I would push very hard to be included in a possible list of urgent recovery addresses if at all possible, regardless of the outcome of the discussion on $. I think this IS one situation where diabetes makes a difference.

ha ha ha - @Michel, Your trust in what the utility company is saying would certainly be far higher than mine.
(Although likely not a surprise.)

I would not for a second think that I would actually be on ANY sort of higher priority list. I would simply assume that is some sort of marketing spin that gets sent up the corporate ladder so somebody feels good about themselves or to cover some sort of government regulation or quasi-rule.

The only REAL impact I would expect would be the rate reduction.

But that is me.

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I would also assume that people who truly need uninterrupted power such as at-home kidney dialysis or any number of critical breathing issues which somebody with good insurance or self funding can set up at home would have an automatic whole house generator.

I know, I am more of a trusting person! The truth, really, is that the way I figure people out is that I wonder how I would feel about something, and assume that someone else probably has the same reaction as me—but I know I have been disappointed some times. Less often that one would think, though.

As for utilities, I was the director of software for a very early broadband company called Cellnet Data Systems, which, at one time, had the largest broadband network in the world (that was in the early years of cellphones). We had about 12 or 15 million utility meters on broadband networks, to do demand billing etc. We did have a primary use case that involved priority customers, both industrial and medical, so I don’t think it is so farfetched.

When I first read this, I dismissed it in the way that I would any time it sounds like I’m getting an exemption I don’t need because of diabetes.

However, if there were a truly significant emergency for which it might take weeks to a month to fix the power lines, I would be very distraught because my stash of insulin (several boxes of pens :wink:) in my refrigerator would no longer last as long as I expected. Based on the level of distress that would cause and the absolute fact that I need insulin, I think it would be appropriate for my power needs to be addressed before someone whose only concern is how quickly the chicken might spoil.

I probably wouldn’t ask for the discount, but I’d take it if it came with the package. While Samson would certainly survive for at least a month without refrigerated insulin, the hardship of getting new insulin is certainly more considerable than another person’s hardship of getting new chicken.

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@Michel - I agree with priority customers in general, but I do not think it really comes down to residential.

I have been part of emergency teams and the priorities were hospitals that were having generator problems, municipal emergency shelters, nursing homes, food distribution points, etc…
Definitely there were no residences we would be allowed to go to. It just wouldn’t be practical. Evacuation and consolidation is the more reasonable approach.

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I totally understand your point, and you may well be right.

But it seems to me that consumer accounts with a ventilator would be a true priority, so there may be a residential priority list somewhere. I don’t know enough about utilities I guess.

If it was a ventilator for my family, you can be 100% sure there would be a battery with at least six hours of runtime connected to it !!!


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My grandmother had an oxygen tank for the last few years of her life, and my parents had to buy a generator in case of an emergency. Not sure where she was in terms of the power priority list though. They never lost power during that time.

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Insulin doesn’t spoil that quickly. I wish they didn’t mention refrigerator storage on the package inserts. It makes so many people worry needlessly.

But if you are worried about it, get a generator:


Heh. I would have no qualms about taking up PG&E on the offer of a discount for any reason.

One of the reasons I left California six years ago was $2500/mo PG&E bills.

Is your new house in the East Bay? For some reason communities in the East Bay have the highest gross PG&E bills on the bay area.

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You must have been growing something in the basement :slight_smile:

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How were you heating your house when the furnace was broke
We weren’t, we just froze our butts off. :slight_smile:

How many kWh did you use over what period?

About 40 kwH per day when the furnace was broken. 20 kwH per day when we were all away, just of electricity.

When we were away we were using 20 kWH per day of just electricity, and as far as I can tell 0 gas. (we have a gas furnace for the main areas and electric baseboard heating for the boys’ rooms). There were a few days when it was raining when we were away and the electricity went up to 25 kwH per day, and then when we returned it’s gone up to about 35 kwH per day.

We’re not sure how old our water heater is.

We have track lighting on dimmer switches in several main rooms.

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Do you remember what the price per kWh was?

(Also when you say PG&E - does that imply combined gas and electric?)

Where I live, we are allowed to choose the supplier/generator of electricity. This is about half of the cost. The other half for distribution and misc charges is whichever utility services our address. Obviously the idea is to allow competition to drive down rates. I have no idea how effective it really is.

Our final electricity cost is right around 14 cents per kWh.

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