To reduce energy consumption and save on your energy bills, it’s important to understand what you’re paying for. Homeowners and some renters pay utility bills. But who are utility companies, and what services do they provide?
A utility is an organization that supplies the community with electricity, natural gas, or water and sewage services.
While not all utilities are the same in terms of how their services are offered, the electricity, natural gas, water, and sewage services they provide come from the same source. For instance, there is no need to select a utility based on who delivers the “best” water, since all water comes from the same source and undergoes the same treatment.
The electricity that flows into your home is typically generated at a power plant (also known as a generating station).
Depending on where you live, renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and water, fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal, as well as biomass, geothermal, and nuclear, or a combination of these resources, can be used to “make,” or generate, the electricity we all depend on. Alberta relies primarily on natural gas, while B.C. relies on water for electricity generation. There are many steps that occur between the power plant and your home. Canada is committed to transitioning to a net-zero electricity grid, meaning it will focus on generating non-emitting electricity from renewable sources (such as water, wind, and solar), as well as nuclear and hydrogen.Learn more about Canada’s Clean Electricity Regulations.
Here’s what’s most important for you to know: in your neighbourhood, electricity travels through power lines (also called distribution lines). The electrical current passes through a transformer and is reduced in voltage to ensure your safety before entering your home. Here, it will pass through a meter to measure how much electricity your household is using. Inside your home, the electricity travels to a service panel, typically found in your basement or garage, before it is directed through small wires inside the walls to electrical outlets and switches. We depend on electricity for a wide range of daily activities. From using your washing machine and dryer, to lighting your home or turning on your television, your home relies on electricity to power many appliances.
Natural gas is a source of energy found below the earth’s surface. Once extracted, the gas is processed and refined, then sent through a pipeline to a distribution facility. From the distribution facility, the gas is ready for your home, and flows through a number of different pipelines.
Here’s what’s most important for you to know: once the gas has reached your neighbourhood, it will flow through a smaller pipeline to get to your home. This is called a service line. At the end of the service line is a meter, which measures how much natural gas your home is using. The meter also reduces the pressure of the gas, so it enters your home safely. Beyond the meter, the gas flows through the pipes inside your home, to your gas appliances. Depending on your home and where you live, these appliances often include gas furnaces and hot water tanks, but may also include air conditioners, stoves and ovens, indoor fireplaces, and dryers. When the gas is extracted, it is odorless. However, to help identify leaks, an additive with an unpleasant smell is added to the gas. If you notice a smell of rotting eggs coming from a gas appliance inside your home, it is important to contact your utility.
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Canada is investing in “clean fuels,” which include renewable natural gas.Learn more about how Canada is investing in clean fuels.
The majority of water consumed by Canadians comes from rivers, lakes, or reservoirs.
Municipal water treatment plants withdraw and treat this water through processes of clarification, filtration, and disinfection. Once the water is clean, it is pumped from the plant through large underground pipes called water mains until it reaches your home. Then, it enters smaller pipes called water lines that run throughout your house.
The water you use at home flows down a drain into other pipes which flow into a wastewater collection system, or sewer. From there, it arrives at a wastewater treatment facility where it undergoes numerous treatments that remove contaminants so the water can be safely discharged back into the environment.
Here’s what’s most important for you to know: in Canada, your water line usually enters through the floor of the foundation, in the basement of your house. By finding and following this water line from where it enters your home, you'll get to the water meter, and then the main water shut-off valve. This valve controls how much water can enter your house. If you ever have a leak or burst water pipe in your house, it is important to know where your main water shut off valve is so that you can turn the water off. You can do this by twisting the valve to the right. This is important because the pipes outside of your property line are taken care of by your municipality, but you are responsible for the maintenance of water lines on your property.
The meter number on your bill corresponds to the number on your electrical, natural gas, or water meters. Your electrical and natural gas meters are located outside your house, while your water meter is likely located in your basement, or the utility closet assigned to your floor if you live in an apartment. Sometimes apartment buildings use sub-meters to allocate energy costs to individual units. Talk to your landlord if you have any questions. Double check that you’ve received the correct bill by comparing the number on your bill to the number on your meter!
The billing cycle is the range of dates that you are being charged for your energy use. Because your utility provider doesn’t always read your meters on the same day, not all billing cycles are the same length of time. They may differ because of long weekends and holidays. If your utility bill is higher than you expect during a billing cycle, it is possible that your energy consumption remained consistent but that the billing cycle was longer.
Payment amount and when it’s due
Your bill shows how much money you owe and the payment deadline. This section will also show you if you have overdue payments from past utility bills.
Your meters allow your utility provider to measure how much energy you use, and therefore, how much to bill you. No matter what utility provider you have, a uniformed representative, or meter reader, will come to your house to read the meter. Then, they will measure your consumption by comparing the reading to the previous month’s and charge you based on the difference. This section of your bill shows how much energy or water you used during the current billing cycle.
Summary of charges
The summary of charges provides a breakdown of what you’re being charged for. For energy bills (electricity and/or natural gas), the amount you owe will mostly be made up of the cost of delivering energy to your home and the amount of energy you consumed during the billing cycle. Your bill will also include several other fees, such as administrative fees. For water bills, you will also see how much water you consumed during the billing cycle. Other charges include wastewater collection and treatment and stormwater management (drainage). Depending on where you live, this utility bill may also include waste and recycling fees.