No Way to Calculate your own Electric Bill in Georgia? And Why I’m switching to the Smart Usage from the Plug-In EV plan

Summary: There is not enough information provided on your electric bill to verify if you are being charged correctly.

Cause: There are two items on the tariff sheets that are not reported and, it appears, there is no way for a normal person to know their costs.

These are:
Demand Side Management Schedule is described as “The amount calculated at the above rate will be increased under the provisions of the Company’s effective Demand Side Management Residential Schedule, including any applicable adjustments”.
and
Fuel Cost Recovery is described as “The amount calculated at the above rate will be increased under the provisions of the Company’s effective Fuel Cost Recovery Schedules in the manner ordered by the Georgia Public Service Commission, including any applicable adjustments”.

This came up when I was reviewing my electric bill to see if the “Plug-in Electric Vehicle” rate, to which I currently subscribe, is the best option for my use patterns.

Georgia Power has 6 rate plans. Two of which (Flat Bill and PrePay) I dismissed immediately as being of no value to me. The remaining ones all had potential so I created a spreadsheet to contrast the amounts I would have paid under those plans compared with what I actually paid.

I took the last 12 months of bills and put them into a spreadsheet. Since I am already on the Plug in EV plan I already had my peak, off peak and super off peak hours broken out for me to simplify the calculations.

I also assumed that the crap fees (Environmental cost recovery, Nuclear boondoggle, Municipal Franchise fee, Tax and the monthly basic service charge) would be about the same regardless of my plan since most of these are based on my energy consumption.

When I first began my calculations I was pretty happy with the results as it looked like there was a tremendous potential for saving money by switching to a different plan. However, to my dismay, I found that the calculations for the rate plan I currently have also gave results that were significantly lower than what I’m actually paying.

I reviewed my formulas a bunch of times and had to conclude that Georgia Power was adding something into the per kilowatt charges that was not obvious on the main part of the bill. Enter the Demand Side Management Schedule and Fuel Cost Recovery items that I finally noticed in the lawyer section of the document.

By my figuring, for the past year, those two items accounted for cost increases on the power portion of the bill of from 21% (last October) up to 59% (last February) over and above the actual published rates.

In real dollars this means I paid $21.40 more on a bill totaling $124.83 up to $58.05 more on a bill totaling $157.06.

Suffice it to say I am not impressed.

So I have no way to really know how much I will pay for electricity under ANY of these plans since it appears Georgia Power can charge pretty much any amount the PSC will let them and I can have no knowledge of that.

The inability to actually calculate the costs of future bills notwithstanding, I can at least get a feel for the *relative* cost differences between the various plans.

Almost universally, the Residential plan is the worst for me.

Likewise Nights & Weekends will not do my wallet any favors although it’s much better than Residential.

Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. It took me a long time to figure out what the “Smart Usage” plan was doing. The description kept going on about needing to split up your high energy uses so as not to consume a lot of power at once. But the mechanism they were using to determine this wasn’t clear to me.
Then I understood. This section here:

DETERMINATION OF BILLING DEMAND:
Maximum kW: Maximum kW shall be the highest 30-minute kW measurement during the current month.

Means that you are essentially punished for the entire month for your highest amount of consumption at a single point in the month regardless of whether you are using the energy in the middle of a hot summer afternoon, or at 2 in the morning, you will pay a premium of $6.64 per kilowatt for the month for that spike.

I am able to charge my car at work many days but if I choose to charge it at home at the maximum power available to me (50 amp service at 240 volts * .8 (max sustained draw) which is 9.6 kW that means a premium on my bill of $63 even if I do it only once during the month.

But I’m able to lower the rate of consumption through my car’s charging controls. Since most of the time I don’t need the car charged *that* fast, I can simply drop it down to

So theoretically I can charge my 75 kWh battery from absolutely empty, assuming about 85% efficiency, in 18.4 hours rather than 9.2 hours and reduce my hit by about $31 from Georgia Power.
Keep in mind that it’s pretty rare for me to ever get below 45% charge, so those times change from 7.8 hrs and 15.6 hrs at 40 and 20 amps respectively to about 5.2 and 10.4 hours which is very comfortable.

Of course there can be other high consumption appliances running when I’m charging my car, so I just need to set my car schedule to off hours and make sure those items don’t conflict. For me the next biggest consumer of power in the house will be my pool pump. So I will just schedule it outside of the car charging hours. Between that and ensuring that the clothes dryer isn’t running at 3 in the morning should keep things pretty simple.

For reference I include links to the Tariff sheets (plus pdf copies I have in case the links go stale).
Nights & Weekends (Link to permanent PDF)
Plug-in EV (Link to permanent PDF)
Residential (Link to permanent PDF)
Smart Usage (Link to permanent PDF)

When, oh when will people stop using gift cards?

So, my wife received a $100 gift card a few years ago and decided to hang on to it to perhaps use to give to somebody else as a nice gift later on.

Of course she had no idea that this US Bank backed gift card started ticking down in value at a rate of $2 a month until she mentioned it today and I looked it up.

What started out as perfectly good, American cash was translated into crappy “stored value” and then sucked dry by the bank. As of today that $100 gift card, which had never been used, never been opened is worth a whopping $14.

For those people who think giving cash is crass, I would argue that giving people a gift that loses value for no good reason at all, except that it can help enrich various banking institutions (thank you for 2008 by the way) is a terrible alternative. Either you care enough to buy a thoughtful gift or you don’t, a gift card does not fill that void.

If you want to direct the money, get a nice card and tell them that here is $100 cash from your loving admirer for you to spend on “x”.

Surely you cannot feel good knowing that your recipient does not get the bulk of the gift you had intended for them?

Wrist-based Sleep Tracking Opinion

Referencing this recent article from the NY Times:

By and large I have to agree with the conclusion that we don’t really know what to do with the information.

There was a comment where the person pointed out that the sleep tracker at least gave him some insight into his sleep after lifestyle choices (drinking, going to be late, etc.).

I am using the “Autosleep” app that was referred to in the article. One thing he didn’t mention was that the app references a “sleep bank” and tries to get you to average out to whatever you say your nightly requirement is (defaults to 8 hours). And then proposes wildly inappropriate go-to-sleep times for that night to “catch up”.

For me:

1) Nothing has come close to the UP! wristband for mapping my sleep habits (it had its own issues about not being able to edit the results when it recorded incorrectly)

2) the fitbit is between the UP! and the Apple Watch. It was OK but very coarse.

3) The apple watch is pretty good. I appreciate that “Autosleep” tries to take a holistic view of things and considers your overall sleep in conjunction with what it records as “Deep sleep” and something else called “Quality sleep” and then adds a dash of your average heartbeat and your wakeup heartbeat and something they call “Heartrate variance” to come up with a comprehensive assessment of your sleep status.

Now if only we had any scientific evidence that any of the above actually means anything, I would be much happier. But I suppose that’s one of the points of the original article.

But my perception that the Apple Watch (and any wrist-based tracker I’ve tried. Not mentioned is Intel’s Basis Peak which I rather liked but disappeared pretty quickly) is still relatively crude for sleep tracking does not instill confidence in me in any ratings/statistics generated.

I’m at the point now where I’m thinking of not bothering with sleep tracking anymore in favor of waking up to a fully charged watch so I don’t have to think about topping it up during the day….

Private Internet Access “Connection Refused”

PIA Main Panel

This morning, to my dismay, I found that my Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN had disconnected. It showed a little yield sign on the toolbar icon. A closer look at the panel showed me a note that maybe my account was disabled or expired.

I then logged on to PIA’s web site and verified that my account was just fine and wouldn’t be due for renewal for a few months yet.

  • Checking Google yielded no results, neither did PIA’s own support knowledge base.
  • Restarting the client didn’t help.
  • My computer had recently been restarted so that was an unlikely candidate.
  • Changing connection servers also didn’t help.

The solution, in my case, was to simply explicitly log out of the PIA app and then log back in. Now it’s working again like nothing happened.

I leave PIA on as a matter of course to ensure that ALL of my internet traffic is encrypted. I just like to be sure that nobody knows my business except me and the entities I’m dealing with. Nobody in between anyway.

I use PIA because it’s normally rock-solid reliable. I tried NordVPN’s trial and found it couldn’t even stay connected for a whole day at a time which wasn’t super useful to me.

PIA did a massive marketing campaign a few months ago which I thought was beneath them. Trying to scare everybody into renewing immediately for long term plans with super expensive (nearly triple) annual rates after that. I’m waiting to see what they want to charge me on my next renewal to see if I stick with them. They’ve been very good so far, it’s a shame if they get too greedy.

Found a great source for my Sacrificial Anodes

Long story short, if you are looking to find copper-free zinc sacrificial anodes you want “Pool Tool Anti Electrolysis” and, as of today, you want to get them from GetPoolParts.com.

To protect my Endless Pool Fastlane I use Zinc Sacrificial Anodes.

The purest source for these I had for these was from Endless Pools themselves. These used to cost a little over $15 each from them which was pretty pricey for something I would need to replace 2-4 times a year. When I checked a few days ago they were now

Similar anodes are used for maritime part protection (inboard motors, hulls, etc.) for a fraction of this cost. However, the maritime anodes that I have found are typically not so pure as I hoped. There is enough copper in them to cause blackening of stainless steel which quickly becomes unattractive.

This…

Endless Pool Fastlane showing stainless steel handle.

becomes this…

Endless Pool Fastlane showing stained stainless steel handle (yes I see the irony).

So I bought a healthy supply of the anodes that lasted me until this year.

When I went looking I saw that the price has now increased to about $24 for these, which is patently absurd.

What I want specifically is a product called “Pool Tool Anti Electrolysis”.

So I came across a site called “Get Pool Parts” that had them available for less then half of where I was seeing them anywhere else ($12.16 per anode). Ordinarily this would be a red flag as deals that are too good to be true are there to suck you in on the internet.

Their BBB record was just OK (B+ as of this writing) but I couldn’t find anything really bad about them in searching for scams or problems. Another vote of confidence for them was a few postings on Troublefreepool.com which has been a great source of pool information for me in the past.

I ordered these really late Tuesday night (2 am) and they arrived on Saturday morning. Everything was exactly as specified. I couldn’t be more pleased. I just wanted to give them a shout out and also let people know about this option and my good experience should you wish to avoid the extortionist pricing for this basic part.

AutoWake iOS App

I bought AutoSleep, Autowake and HeartWatch (all by Tantsissa) as a bundle.

While I believe that AutoWake and HeartWatch are excellent apps (and have reviewed them as such), I cannot say the same for AutoWake.

You can set AutoWake up to automatically wake you at a certain time for each day of the week. In my case I have it set to wake me at 7:00 Mon-Fri.

You can also override this behavior as needed, i.e. I disable the alarm if I am taking a day off work or have a holiday.

Its greatest advantage IMHO is that it is supposed to find a time when you are sleeping lightly near to your set alarm time and then tap your wrist to wake you up.

It more or less works most of the time. And when it works it works very well.

I have AutoWake added as a complication on my primary watch face (my ONLY watch face) as required and my phone sits charging on the end table beside my bed so there should be no reason for failure.

But the alarm has failed to go off in the morning 4 times over the past two months. This might not seem terrible, but if you need to catch a plane the next morning – which I sometimes do – I don’t want my alarm to be flakey.

What usually, but not always, happens is that the alarm will go off later in the morning, 9:40 and 10:20 AM are two times that I recall specifically.
This morning it just didn’t go off at all.

I will be deleting this app and falling back to the Apple Watch’s built in alarm.

McDonald’s iOS App

I’m pretty enthusiastic about
1) McDonald’s, and
2) Apps that can simplify my fast-food ordering experience.

IMHO the Chick-Fil-A app came out of the gate working exactly the way ALL fast food apps should work. It’s intuitive, pretty much bulletproof, and every Chick-Fil-A restaurant I went to understood what to do when you showed up with a mobile order.

McDonald’s Menu in iOS App

Admittedly the McDonald’s app has come a long way from the days when it would just discard my credit card information and it’s been a while since I’ve visited a McDonald’s that was hopelessly confused with what to do with me and my order.

Having the curbside, drive thru and take out options are great and I’ve used each option for different circumstances (nice to have the curbside when you order food for a lot of people).
However, the app itself still leaves much to be desired:

  1. The order cart never seems to empty after I’ve picked up my order. Obviously the back end knows I’ve claimed the order since they’ve charged me the correct amount, provided the correct order and given me a receipt indicating such. 
  2. There is NO WAY TO EMPTY the cart when it’s stuck like this. Trying to just delete all the items yields interesting results to say the least. Basically it trashes the order you are now trying to make.
  3. I have now resorted to just deleting the app wholesale every time I want to use it again (and see stuff still in the cart) and re-download it from the App Store. This works very well to clear the cart without completely losing everything. How it remembers me and my payment information after removing and reinstalling the app I try to ignore as it seems to be a security hole.
  4. The user interface breaks my number one rule. When I go back from a screen, I need to end up on the screen I came from in the same state it was in when I left it. Every time I select something and add it to the cart, I’m brought back to the beginning of the top menu.  If I want to order two kinds of sundae I can’t order one and then select the other one. I end up hunting for the desserts menu and then choose my next Sundae. 
  5. It always defaults me to the closest restaurant
  6. I can’t *tell* you how long it took me to figure out how to find my list of “Favorited” restaurants. This is not intuitive at all. Most of the time when I’m ordering from a McDonald’s I’m heading somewhere and want the restaurant nearest to that destination so the food will be as fresh as possible. This is not something this app excels at.

It would be nice if I could have a blacklist of McDonald’s restaurants. There are some that I will not go to even if they were the last ones on earth. My nearest one I’ve never managed to get an order from. I’ve lived here for well over 20 years and have never made it all the way through the drive thru line. I don’t even know how they stay in business but after about 10 minutes of just sitting in place, I drive away and go elsewhere. I try it every 4-5 years and it’s always the same. 

HeartWatch iOS App

I bought AutoSleep, Autowake and HeartWatch (all by Tantsissa) as a bundle.

HeartWatch Today View

While I wasn’t originally looking for a separate Heart Rate app, HeartWatch had excellent reviews and looked like it would appeal to a stats geek like me.

I’m super-impressed with it. I actually use it over the the included Apple Exercise app because I like capturing my HR recovery explicitly after a workout.

There is no shortage of stats you can review: Average and Maximum heartrate while exercising, (separately) while sedentary, and while sleeping.

I especially like the history calendar where you can look at nearly 2 months worth of each stat individually and see how things are changing over time.

I’m very pleased with this quasi-impulse purchase!

AutoSleep iOS App

I bought AutoSleep, Autowake and HeartWatch (all by Tantsissa) as a bundle.

AutoSleep Clock View

AutoSleep has absolutely met my expectations, I used to use FitBit’s sleep function and before that my Jawbone UP!’s app.

I did the most research around the Jawbone app and found that it was *very* accurate and was happy with it. If only the hardware was a bit more durable. The UP! wristband kept failing after around 6-8 months.

Next was FitBit, I got a good deal on a FitBit Charge HR 2 through my work and have been using it for well over 2 years. I felt it’s sleep recording was nowhere near as accurate as the UP! but it was good enough for a gross relative estimate of how I’m doing night by night.
I picked up an Apple Watch Series 4 and, after a bit of research settled on AutoSleep.

Wow.

In addition to it being at LEAST as accurate as the UP! (blowing the FitBit completely out of the water), it has more stats and tweaks than you can shake a stick at!

I admit it was initially overwhelming and I pretty much ignored all but the most basic stats at first. But after a few days I got my bearings and started to see what it’s capturing and how it relates to the real world. I’m *very* impressed with this app. 

If you forget to tell it you’re going to sleep it does an excellent job of figuring that out on its own. If you want to tell it when you’re putting your head down (to figure out how long it takes you to fall asleep once you start trying) you can do that too.

It sends me a nice summary of my night’s sleep at 10 AM the next day that helps me stay aware. And it detects naps with great accuracy so those properly count when evaluating your fatigue. 
Excellent purchase and HIGHLY recommended!

Chick-Fil-A Rewards Best Redemption Value

I *really* like Chick-Fil-A. They just seem to know how to do things right.

When their app came out I jumped on it and was very pleased that, not only was it intuitive, but also the restaurants knew what to do with the mobile order when you arrived. Something that most of the other fast-food restaurants would stumble on in the early days of using their apps (I’m looking at you McDonalds).

When the app was first introduced they offered scads of free entrees, milkshakes, etc. Plus they had plenty of “Just Because” rewards. As the app matured they must have realized how haphazard the rewards system was because they switched over to a system where you accrue points based off the number of dollars spent. They still have some “Just Because” rewards but nothing like in the first year or so.

When I looked at what I could get for my accumulated reward points I was struck with how many points my favorite salad (“Spicy Southwest Salad”, it’s awesome) required vs many of their other offerings. I figured there must be some rewards that are better than others so I whipped up a quick spreadsheet and give you the values here.

Keep in mind that the below reflects the point/price values of my local Chick-Fil-A as of February, 2019. But I imagine it would be similar in most places. Also, I only worked this out for my favorite items. You’ll need to get the price/points for anything else you want to check.

ItemPoints Cost Val/Point
Medium Waffle Fries200 $ 1.85  $ 0.00925
Cookie150 $ 1.19  $ 0.00793
Coke (lg?)250 $ 1.89  $ 0.00756
8 nuggets500 $ 3.49  $ 0.00698
Sandwich500 $ 3.39  $ 0.00678
Lemonade (lg?)350 $ 2.25  $ 0.00643
Chicken Club Sandwich950 $ 5.89  $ 0.00620
Deluxe Sandwich650 $ 3.99  $ 0.00614
Spicy Southwest Salad1500 $ 7.39  $ 0.00493

Summary: So hands down getting yourself a MEDIUM Waffle Fries is your best value with each point being worth *nearly* one cent.

Worst value is redeeming points to get the Spicy Southwest Salad (sigh) with each point being worth just about half that for the fries.