My Shocking Electric Bill

When I lived in Fort Lauderdale my electric bill normally ran around a hundred to a hundred and twenty five bucks a month. Granted, I had the air conditioner running most of the time. It’s about the only way you can survive there for three-quarters of the year. The other three months you need to have the a/c turned to the heat function.

When I was first researching the possibility of retiring to Panama, I read a lot of different blogs and paid special attention to posts about the “cost of living.” People often wrote that one of their largest expenses was for electric service and that the cost per kilowatt hour was higher than it was in the States. Well, you’d probably expect that you’d be needing to run your air conditioning 31 (that’s 24/7) in a country that’s only eight degrees north of the equator. It wasn’t unusual to see people saying that they had monthly bills in Panama similar to what I was paying in Lauderdale.

When I finally made the move it was to a house in Potrerillos Arriba, Chiriqui Province in western Panama. The house didn’t have air conditioning, but at 2,600 feet above sea level it wasn’t necessary. In fact I spent a great deal of the time wearing a sweat shirt to stay comfortable. My electric bill there generally ran about $25 a month. Certainly a bargain compared to what I was used to in Florida and a fraction of what I’d been lead to believe I’d have to pay according to the blogs I’d read.

Boquerón, where I currently live, is 2,000 feet lower than Potrerillos Arriba. The house I rent does have air conditioning, but I rarely use it. The house is small and with the front and back doors open there is generally a nice breeze flowing through. I’m usually comfortable if I’m in shade with a breeze, and when there is no natural breeze one of the two pedestal fans I have works just as well. There are three reasons I turn on the air conditioning. 1) On the first of each month I turn the upstairs unit on for an hour just to make sure it’s functioning. 2) When a neighbor down the street decides to crank up the music and it forces me to close the doors and windows to block out the bass. 3) When I’m using the oven and it heats the downstairs to an uncomfortable level. When the food’s done I shut it off. At night, if I’m not cooking, there are only two lights on and they are the kind conservatives in the U.S. condemn as part of a nefarious socialist plot against their individual freedom to use incandescent lighting. My monthly bill here is pretty much the same as it was in Potrerillos…around $20/month or a bit less.

Last Friday I received my most recent Union Fenosa bill for October’s service. It was shocking! The electric company wants me to pay them $9.87!!! Just so you don’t think I’m pulling your leg, here’s a pic of the bill.

While I came to accept hundred dollar electric bills as normal while living in Florida I also had exceptionally low electric bills when I was living on my shanty boat in Louisiana where it’s every bit as hot and humid in August and September as it is in Lauderdale.

As you can see, I had a window-banger a/c unit but I never used it. Each slip at the marina had its own electric meter. My bill was usually just the minimum necessary to have electric service. It was $7 a month.

One month when I went to pay the bill I stood in line and watched people paying three, four and five hundred dollars just to keep from having their service cut off. The only thing I could think of that would warrant such bills is that they kept their a/c going day and night keeping the temperature of their homes at a level where they could store meat just by leaving it on the kitchen counter.

When I made it up to the window I told the woman, “I’m almost embarrassed to give this to you.”

She looked at the bill and said, “well, you don’t live there.”

“I do,” I told her. “The thing is, when I’m not home the only thing drawing electricity is the refrigerator. If I’m home during the day you can add the television or the stereo. At night you can add a single light bulb.”

The lady took my seven-dollar payment and I left.

One morning, a few days later I was lying on my sofa reading a book (I’d been laid-off at the time). I heard a vehicle crunching down the shell road along the docks. It came to a stop nearby and I heard two doors open and close. Curious, I raised s slat on the blinds and saw two men from the electric company with an instrument testing my meter. The lady at the counter had pimped me out, unable to believe that anyone could exist on seven dollars worth of electricity a month.

The following month I went back to the electric company and paid my monthly seven dollar bill.



Filed under Boqueron Panama, Living Abroad, Living in Panama, Living Small, Panama Cost of Living, Retirement, Retirement Abroad

2 responses to “My Shocking Electric Bill

  1. Andres Espino Dennison

    When I lived in Mexico I had no central heating and in the winter it gets quite cold as it does on the TX side. Friends said electric is cheaper than the US so go ahead and use an electric heater, so I did. My US bill averaged anywhere from $80 to $130 a month using heat in winter and AC in summer. I got my first December bill in Mexico that year and thought there was some mistake.. it was for $20,458.20. I showed it to my friend and he broke out laughing.. “That’s only about $15.60 in US dollars” he said grinning I was so relieved! When the devaluation of the peso was at its peak you needed a shoebox of old peso paper notes to pay for even small items LOL

  2. Andres Espino Dennison

    PS since I am thinking about Bocas area i am glad that plug in power is likely to be cheap for me aboard. I do not have major appliances

    Bocas is a great place for cruisers. Number one is it’s below the hurricane belt. Two, there are tons of places to gunkhole. On the downside, though, is that it’s one of the hottest places in Panama as well as one of the wettest. Also, electricity there is more expensive than in most of Panama. The islands aren’t connected to the grid. Each of the islands has their own generators and since they’re islands the fuel to run the generators has to be shipped out to them which, of course, hikes the cost of generating the electricity. I recently met a girl who lived in Isla Colon for a couple of years. She lived in a small studio apartment on the water but had to run her a/c constantly and her bills were generally in the $90 – $100/month.

    If I had any advice for a boater thinking of living down here I’d have to say…Invest in the largest array of solar panels you can afford, or a wind generator. Invest in a large amp-hour battery bank with a top notch charger. Get a high-output alternator if you have an inboard engine and a spare for the time that one will inevitably shit-the-bed. Also, invest in a top notch inverter.

    When I had my lovely Kaiser 26 it didn’t have an inboard engine. Instead I had a decent portable Generac generator. When it was necessary to charge the batteries I’d hook the generators 12-volt output to the batteries and hook up an ac car battery charger to it as well. I’d half fill the tank, and since it was LOUD I’d start it up, get in my dinghy and go exploring or visiting friends. When I’d get back the generator would have run out of gas and the batteries would be charged for a few days.