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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Electricity in the Kitchen

Frugal Kitchens 101
Early in 2009 Hyrdo One, the electricity provider for Ontario announced they would be switching to a Time of Use (TOU) pricing per kWh over the follow year. Some in Ontario are already on this pricing system and while our Smart Meter was installed in February 2009 it is not activated to TOU pricing. Currently our winter rates are 5.6¢ per kWh which is 44% of our total hydro bill. With service charges some of which are dependent on kWh used the real cost is more like 11¢ per kWh. The TOU pricing will see the cost per kWh go to 4.2¢ per kWh for off peak hours (9 pm - 7 am, weekends, holidays), 7.6¢ per kWh for mid-peak use, and 9.1¢ per kWh for high peak hours. The mid and peak hours actually reverse in the summer but the off peak hours remain the same. While the cost per kWh used is going up, the 56% of our bill that is the service charges isn't providing we don't increase the number of kWh used. Essentially how we use electricity between the hours of 7 am and 9 pm either has to change or will be more costly. This type of pricing has already been in effect in other countries and it is gaining favour so now is the time to cut back on the kWh you use. In addition to the TOU pricing the Ontario government courtesy of Dalton McGuinty (let's see him get re-elected) has introduced the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) that will see an increase in hydro bills of 8% in taxes. Without going into my views on the HST although I'm sure you can guess the bottom line is those living in Ontario are going to be seeing a substantial increase in hydro costs likely by July 1, 2010. Now is the time to a) if you are living in Ontario change your hydro use habits and b) if you are living outside of Ontario pay attention because this is the wave of the future.

For the most part little will change in my kitchen but that is because I'm already down to a low kWh usage. How can you reduce your kWh used in the kitchen? Here are a few of my tips:

  • All major appliances should be EnergyStar® qualified. Keep them well cleaned inside and out to make sure they operate up to their potential. On older models keep those refrigerator coils vacuumed. Don't overload your fridge for any reason. Try to keep some empty space (yes I hear my kids snickering at this one) for good air circulation. Unplug and get rid of that old spare fridge that can be costing a lot of kWh per month even though you only use it once or twice a year.
  • Eliminate all unnecessary electric small appliances. True that electric can opener is only used briefly not even enough to cost a penny per use. In the big picture it may only cost you 50¢ per year to use BUT it is still using hydro. If you go through and eliminate all unnecessary small electric appliances not only are you going to save money but you will have more storage space for other appliances and gadgets that will serve you better.
  • Rethink your coffee maker. If you make a pot of coffee then leave the heat setting on to keep the coffee warm for a few hours then you are wasting kWh. Change your coffee maker out for one with a thermal carafe or pour your coffee into a thermos that will keep it hot enough to enjoy for a few hours without using any kWh.
  • The oven can make or break you. If you use your oven to bake 2 baked potatoes for dinner you are wasting kWh. If you use your oven to cook a couple of roasts (one for slicing for that week's sandwiches), 6 baked potatoes (2 for dinner, 4 for baked potato soup the following day) and perhaps another side or dessert then you are using your oven effectively. You are using the same amount of kWh but getting so much more out of them. If you use your oven this way on Sunday night when the lowest price per kWh is in effect then you have a head start on the week's meals that will take a lot less energy usage to prepare.
  • The slow cooker is not going to be your friend. For years the slow cooker (crockpot) has been tooted as being a frugal appliance. With these new changes it is not going to remain frugal because it will be constantly using hydro during mid and high peak hours meaning you are going to be paying a lot more to use your slow cooker. Use your slow cooker on Sunday to create a nice meal that can be warmed in the microwave for the first couple of nights of the week.
  • The pressure cooker is your friend. A pressure cooker will allow you to get a good, nutritious meal on your table in under an hour still coming in at lower kWh usage than a slow cooker.
  • Think alternative cooking. If you have a woodstove, cook your soup or stew on that since it is already on in the winter. If you have multiple choices of cooking fuel supply (eg. electricity, natural gas, naphtha fuel, wood, propane, butane, solar) choose the method that works best for you that is the cheapest. In Ontario natural gas is still the cheapest cooking fuel although if you have a source for free wood it's even cheaper. Solar is also an option although not all that practical during the winter months in Ontario.
  • Check the deli. Ok this is not what you are used to hearing from me on this blog that focuses on cooking from scratch. I cannot buy a whole chicken for under $8 here. Sobey's sells cooked rotisserie chickens for $7 or after 5 pm for $5. That's without me having to use any hydro to cook it so for me a rotisserie chicken is a frugal alternative.
  • Canning and food preservation should be done during low peak usage. This only makes good sense to me and it is something I really don't have to change a lot. During the summer months I've always canned during the early morning hours and late evening hours. It's cooler then so was more comfortable as well. During the winter months I try to get any canning out of the way in the early morning hours just because there are a lot of other things I want to do but really if I had to run the canner at mid-peak hour prices I would. What becomes a consideration is the freezer. Recall from the moment you put food in a freezer you are paying for its storage. The freezer really needs to be EnergyStar® qualified. I keep my freezers as full as possible to help with energy efficiency yet with enough space to comfortable overturn the food and just enough space to add any bargains I might find.
  • Nix the boiling. Use steaming rather than boiling for any vegetable. Steaming gives nicer results with more nutrition and less energy usage.

4 food lovers commented:

A Year on the Grill said...

Hopefully being green is not a fad

Garden Gnome said...

I think it has been quite sometime since being green has been viewed as a fad. I have a copy of The Canadian Green Consumer Guide (1989) so it was beyond a fad back then. TOU pricing will force consumers to become more aware of their energy use or pay the extra price. I just blogged on my homemaking blog about a couple of the newer ways utility companies are going to be able to remotely control your thermostat and smart-grid appliances remotely using wireless technology and FM radio wave. Ontario just a couple of years ago banned many lawn chemicals and some places actually have water police where if you are caught watering your lawn or garden when you aren't supposed to or if it appears you have been with a penalty of immediate water shut-off and a fine of $1,000 to get the water turned back on. All cars in Ontario now must pass yearly testing for emissions. Recycling is the norm in most communities. If anything being green has moved away from being a fad to being the norm.

Sheila said...

An oven timer will allow you to have possibly two or more casseroles cooking overnight, assuming you will be able to freeze at least one. I love pressure cookers but it seems to result in a different flavour from a slow cooked meal.

Garden Gnome said...

Hi Sheila :) Thanks for the tip. Most stoves/ranges have a timer and delayed setting but some newer ranges have two timers and delayed setting which is quite a handy feature. So there are a few ways to do this. I'm not too fond of cooking overnight as the smells would keep me up all night :) However this may be an option others would be interested in trying.

I think pressure cooking lacks the caramelization of slow cooking.