Dealing With Your Electric Bill

That's a challenge here

One of the more confusing aspects of living in Mexico is understanding the CFE bill. (For all you non-residents, that’s the electric bill).

Residential accounts in Baja California Sur must keep their annual usage below a monthly average of 850 kilowatt hours (kWh), or they will be put into to the dreaded DAC tarifa (rate) category because rates here are in tiers. Tiers of your own making.

DAC is an acronym for “domestico de alto consume” (meaning “high consumption domestic service”). It is the rate assigned to users that have consumed more than 10,200 kWh of electricity in a 12 month period. If your CFE bill has DAC marked in the tarifa box instead of 1C, it means that instead of paying a reasonably tiered electricity rate of between $0.7 to $2.8 pesos per kWh (which is roughly four to 15 cents USD), you are required to pay a much higher flat rate of $4.5 pesos (23 cents) per kWh. You are required to pay this rate until your average electricity usage gets below 850 kWh/month. (Note: Rates change periodically and are slightly higher in the summer when you really need their electricity.)

If you’re like my family, dad is the “Energy Ogre,” as he’s the one solely responsible for paying the bill and, sadly, no one else seems to care about higher electricity rates. As a veteran of the ongoing struggle to avoid being DAC’d, I’ve developed some strategies over the years to win the battle against my CFE bill:

Know your enemy The air conditioner mini split, the typical air conditioning unit found in the majority of residential construction in Los Cabos, is the single largest contributor to your energy consumption. (If you have a pool – big mistake. You’re already likely in the DAC zone and you can’t be helped unless you can live with the green scum caused by keeping your filter pump turned off. Sorry.)

Learn the sound of the AC. Depending on where the AC unit is placed, it generally emits a low-level hum or vibration. As a dad, it is necessary for you to be able to recognize this sound so you can easily tell if the AC is on during unauthorized AC hours. It might take dozens of hours of practice, however, once mastered, Dad can quickly and easily identify the offending AC and shut it down (much to the chagrin of his children).

The Carpool Only this time, we’re not talking about driving. This tactic requires the gathering of all family members into a single room to sleep each night. Mom, dad and dogs on the bed, kids on the floor with an air mattress. On the plus side, only a single AC unit is in use. On the downside, dad lives life as a celibate monk over the summer months.

The Ninja This method is used with rebellious teenagers, or when family comes to visit and you don’t want to come off as an AC tyrant. Prior to the arrival of your guests, Dad ensures the guest room door hinges are suitably greased to avoid squeaking. When your guests retire for the evening, allow at least one hour for them to fall asleep. Commence the operation by placing your ear close to the door to ensure no extra-curricular activities are under way. When clear, slowly open the door with your left hand and, with your right hand, reach in with an AC remote and angle it towards the AC unit. Press the remote ‘off’ button and then slowly retreat your arm while gently closing the door. In extreme situations, where the guests turn the AC back on, you may have to belly crawl into the room and retrieve their AC remote from the nightstand.

The ‘Power Outage’ This technique is used when it would be inappropriate to open the guest room door, like when non-family guests are visiting. Prior to guest arrival, identify the AC shutoff. It is usually separate from the main electrical panel and is often located with the AC units on the roof. Set your alarm for the pre-dawn hours and then simply shut off all of the AC. When your guests inquire about what happened, you can simply say “I dunno. Must be CFE. Damn Mexican utilities. Phhhhffttt.” A shrug or eye roll can help with effective delivery.

The Campout In extreme situations, where you calculate that you are close to the DAC limit but not yet over, you might have to shut all the power down until the end of the billing cycle. In this case, dad advises the family that they’re going on an unscheduled ‘family-fun’ camping trip to the beach. (Not recommended during final exam week or for more than three consecutive calendar days.)

In a decade, I’ve only been DAC’d three times. However, once over the 850kWh/month limit, it’s hard to get back under. My methods might seem extreme, but they’re effective (and worth it). Good luck.