Understanding Your Utility Bill 

  • May 8, 2024
870 450 Rich Storck

Navigating the complexities of your utility bill might not be the most exciting task, but gaining a clear understanding is crucial for ensuring you’re not overpaying and making the most of your home’s energy efficiency. For many Wisconsin residents, the monthly utility bill is a significant expense, and knowing what each section means can help you identify potential savings.

The Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative created a nifty interactive graphic on their website: Decode Your Power Bill

Your utility bill and tips on how to interpret it.

Account Summary 
At the very top of your utility bill, you will typically find the account summary. This section includes your account number, the billing period, the total amount due, and the due date. It provides a quick snapshot of what you owe and by when, serving as a handy reference for your payment schedule. 

Rate Information 
Utilities in Wisconsin charge consumers based on specific rates approved by the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin. These rates can vary depending on the type of utility (electric, gas, water), your usage level, and even the time of your consumption. Understanding the rate structure on your bill can help you plan your usage to take advantage of lower rates during off-peak hours. 

Energy Usage 
This section is particularly insightful as it details your consumption over the billing period. Most utility bills will show your current usage compared to previous billing cycles. This visual comparison can be instrumental in spotting trends, such as increased energy consumption during winter. Awareness of your energy habits encourages informed decisions about energy efficiency improvements or adjusting your usage habits. 

Fees and Adjustments 
Utility bills often include various fees, taxes, and adjustments. These could range from state and local taxes to charges for specific services like a municipal service fee. Some charges might seem small, but they can add up. If you see a fee you don’t understand, it’s worth reaching out to your utility. 

Detailed Service Information
Depending on your provider, your bill might include detailed information about the service charges (the cost to bring energy to your home) and energy charges (the cost of the energy you use). These sections underscore the operational and infrastructure costs associated with the utility service.

    • The service charge, also known as the customer charge, is the flat monthly fee you pay every month for access to energy. The service charge is fixed every month so even if you did not use any energy in a given month, you would still be charged for access under the service charge. This charge varies by utility. In many cases, these charges will be significantly higher if you get your electric service from a cooperative utility or live in a rural area based on the higher cost to serve areas with low population density. The fixed service charge can be more significant on natural gas bills based on the seasonal changes discussed above. The service charge will be a much larger portion of a summer natural gas bill and a much smaller portion in the winter.
    • The energy charge on your electric bill is the cost of the electricity you use and is billed by kilowatt-hour (kWh). Utilities will read a customer’s meter to determine the amount of electricity used. The average Wisconsin electric customer uses about 650 kWhs of electricity each month. To help put this into perspective, running ten 100watt light bulbs for one hour is one kWh. Similarly, the energy cost of natural gas on your bill is shown as the cost per therm multiplied by the number of therms you use. While the service charge is fixed, the energy charge is variable. To reduce your energy charge, be aware of energy waste in your home and consider implementing energy efficiency measures. 

Resources from Wisconsin Utilities

We Energies: Reading Your Bill 

Wisconsin Public Service: Reading Your Bill 

Alliant Energy: Understanding Your Bill 

Madison Gas and Electric: About the Bill 

Xcel Energy: How to Read Your Bill 

Contact Information and Dispute Resolution

Your bill should provide contact information for customer service and details on how to dispute charges you believe are incorrect. Knowing how to contact your utility provider and the process for disputing a bill are essential for resolving any issues promptly.

Resources from the Public Service Commission

PSC Utility Customer Bill of Rights (wi.gov)  

The PSC can help resolve disputes with utilities regarding electric, natural gas, water service and very limited aspects of local telephone service. You must first try to resolve your dispute directly with the utility before contacting the PSC for assistance. If you are unsuccessful in resolving your concern directly with the utility, you may contact the PSC. 

Online: File a complaint online 

Phone: You can reach a Consumer Specialist between 7:45 AM and 4:30 PM, Monday through Friday, by calling 1-800-225-7729 or 1-608-266-2001 (Local).