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Cut electric usage to offset higher rates

Nothing like New Year's Eve to make you nostalgic for the year just past. As we head into 2009, there's one thing Tampa Bay residents certainly aren't ringing in with cheer: higher electric bills. Rates are slated to rise this week for the region's two largest utilities, with Tampa Electric rates heading up 12 percent and Progress Energy's rising 24 percent. We took a look at three common household appliances, comparing what they cost to run at the end of 2008 with what they'll cost to run in early 2009. We're not just trying to make you mad — we've also included a few tips to help you break even.

Refrigerator

GE 25.8 cu. ft. French door refrigerator with icemaker

Annual electric use: 552 kilowatt hours

Progress Energy, cost per year: then: $61, now: $76

Tampa Electric, cost per year: then: $63, now: $71

Got a kitchen makeover planned in the new year? If you're comparison shopping for a new refrigerator, you'll likely see the bright yellow Energy Guide tags. Beware. The tags base their estimate on electric rates that are lower than both Tampa Bay area utilities. The Energy Guide for this GE refrigerator estimates the cost to run it at $59 a year. At Tampa Electric's new rates, it will cost nearly $71, and more than $76 for with Progress Energy.

Sticking with the old fridge? Maximize energy efficiency by leaving a space between walls or cabinets and the refrigerator, cleaning coils in the back, positioning it away from heat like the oven or sunlight, making sure door seals are airtight and keeping the temperature between 35 and 38 degrees, 0 degrees in the freezer. An icemaker can be a major power suck. In some models, it's possible to turn off the icemaker without melting the ice. Consult your manual. If you do buy a new one, don't give into the temptation to keep the old one in the garage. It can cost you more than $200 a year to operate an older, less-energy-efficient refrigerator in a garage without air conditioning, Progress Energy spokeswoman Suzanne Grant said. "I just got rid of my second one, and I did manage to make it through Christmas with just one refrigerator," Grant said.

Television

Samsung 40-inch LCD 1080p flat screen television

Annual electric use: 298 kilowatt hours

Progress Energy, cost per year: then: $33, now: $41

Tampa Electric, cost per year: then: $34, now: $38

In November, Energy Star began rating flat-panel televisions for the first time. In estimating annual power, it assumed a television would be on for five hours a day and in standby mode for 19 hours a day.

Looking for a high-definition, post-Christmas deal? Smaller models use less power, and LCD televisions generally use less power than plasmas. Yes, the 37-inch looks puny next to the 50-inch at the store, but it could look huge at home. Consumer Reports recommends sitting 5 to 6 feet away from TVs 40 inches or larger. For small rooms, consider a smaller screen size. Samsung's 32-inch model will cost a Progress Energy customer $26 to run in 2009, and a Tampa Electric customer $24. The 52-inch in the same model costs twice as much.

Already got one? Check out your manual. Some models have power-saving modes. Also, power the TV all the way off. Turning off the cable box doesn't turn off the TV. It's still sucking power and can wear out the television. The remote controls offered with Bright House high-definition digital cable have a "master power" setting that will turn both the television and cable box off with one touch of the button. When off, TVs remain in standby mode, sipping power.

Water heater

GE 40-gallon electric water heater

Annual electric use: 4,674 kilowatt hours

Progress Energy, cost per year: then: $517, now: $644

Tampa Electric, cost per year: then: $534, now: $600

Water heating accounts for 13 to 17 percent of residential energy consumption, putting it just behind kitchen appliances and heating and cooling systems, according to Energy Star, a joint program of the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Looking for a new one? Go solar. Florida's warm climate makes it ideal for solar hot water heaters. Solar hot water heating systems typically cost from $4,000 to $6,000, but a federal tax credit will offset 30 percent of the cost. Florida offers rebates, although the money set aside by the state gets used up quickly so check for availability. Progress Energy offers a rebate of $450, but certain restrictions apply, so check with the utility first. The utility estimates customers can save 85 percent of their water heating costs with a solar system.

Keeping the old? Turn it down, and wrap it up. Many water heaters have a default setting up to 140 degrees, Grant said. Progress Energy recommends setting it at 120 degrees, which can save $80 a year. Insulating a hot water heater can save 4 to 9 percent on water-heating costs, according the Energy Department, which recommends one with at least an R-8 rating.

Cut electric usage to offset higher rates 01/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 5, 2009 9:56am]

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