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OPINION: Should campground utilities be submetered?

OPINION: Should campground utilities be submetered?
Electric Meter

By Kevin Hulit
Chief Marketing Officer, Cedar Mountain RVI

Submetering is a system that allows a landlord or management body to separate tenants’ individual utility usage, creating a more customized view of power or utility usages among the tenants so that they can ultimately be billed accordingly by the utility provider.

Most often it is applied to electric or water utilities, and is a small investment that can be recuperated in a short period of time using the cost savings that typically result from making such changes. This modern approach to utility billing has been adopted on a large scale in recent years, and is a trend that is expected to grow.

Implemented in places like multi-tenant properties, government buildings, and RV parks, studies have shown that submetering can reduce utility usage by 25 percent, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s Residential Electrical Submetering Manual.

For campground owners, submetering has a direct impact on the financial stream as well as the overall experience for campers visiting the campground. On a larger scale it also directly impacts the environment; something campers care a whole lot about.

In a report titled, “Why are Electricity Prices Increasing? An Industry-Wide Perspective,” The Edison Foundation reveals that while electricity remains an excellent value, future changes to the power industry will put a strain on the utility, and the significant and necessary investments needed to keep it sound will require rate increases to finance them.

Submetering allows campgrounds to get ahead of this eminent increase by bringing cost savings for electricity into the financial plan ahead of the rate increases. With a cost savings plan in place, campground owners can then decide how best to invest in their business, whether in infrastructure like new playgrounds or dog parks, upgrades like bandwidth increases for WiFi, or simply saving for future expenses. The opportunities are boundless.

Wayne Hulit, CEO of Cedar Mountain RVI, a Virginia-based company involved in WiFi installations and upgrades for campgrounds, sees how the savings from submetering campsites has impacted his business.

“The money saved on the utility end of the business serves the owners well, from a reinvestment perspective,” he explained. “We’ve had several campgrounds contact us for site surveys to evaluate their WiFi.”

In any scenario, the argument can be made that submetering unlocks funds which can then be used elsewhere.

So, how exactly does installing submeters deliver savings on electricity and water utilities to campground owners? The simple answer is that it gets the owner off the hook for paying for them. Deferring payment of utilities to guests takes the burden off the campground owner, providing instant savings on the expense.

Whether or not the savings are passed on to the customer or used for investment is a business decision the campground owner will have to make, but either way the practice of holding the camper responsible for their personal utility usage would be well received.

When campers don’t have to pay to run multiple air conditioning units in their neighbor’s RV, they will appreciate separate billing.

One of the many benefits of technology is that it is constantly improving, getting smaller, less expensive, and more capable of broader applications along the way. In a time when customization is an expectation among consumers, being able to tailor fit technology to meet expectations is a necessity in business.

Submeters are relatively small and inexpensive. Submetering utility usage by guests is a very plausible investment that will pay off in a big way. Metering guests at the campsite for the utilities they use will more likely cause them to use less in order to save money on the usage.

In an RV Industry News podcast, Wade Elliott, president and founder of Utility Supply Group, commented on campers’ approach to utility usage in situations where submetering is applied to their stay.

“If you’re thinking about the power that you’re using, you’re a little bit more careful with it, and will watch it a little closer,” he said.

Conservation of utilities is conservation of resources. Having guests use resources more efficiently is better for the environment overall, something they will surely appreciate while visiting the wild spaces in and near the campground.

Expenses will always be a rising tide. Taking advantage of ever-improving technology like utility submeters can help campground owners stay afloat while at the same time deliver the experiences their guests expect.

Kevin Hulit is the chief marketing officer for Cedar Mountain RVI, a Virginia-based company involved in WiFi installations and upgrades for campgrounds. He can be reached at kevin@cmrvi.com or by calling 732.232.9787.

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About Kevin Hulit

Kevin Hulit is chief marketing officer for Cedar Mountain RVI, a company focused on Internet access solutions for RVs, Wi-Fi networks for campgrounds and RV parks, and digital business solutions management for the recreational industries. He also represents WifiUgo, a portable Internet solutions company that specializes in business continuity and failover protection for businesses that experience challenging Internet connectivity scenarios. Originally from California, he also lived in New England before settling in New Jersey with his wife and children. Kevin attended Rutgers University where he earned a B.A., and has held various sales and marketing positions over the years. He is a writer at heart, a published poet, and will use anything as an excuse to get outdoors.

15 comments

  1. All well and good for the campground owner. Not so much from the individual camper viewpoint. We have to budget our expenses too. Very hard to decide what a campground night will cost when we have to add in electric. Fine for long-time campers, but not so much for night by night campers. Also, how many campground owners will be tempted to bump up the rate per kilowatt hour to boost profits?

    • John, here in PA (and I believe in most states), “bumping the rate” is illegal. We’re allowed to apply charges to read, but anything more than that is illegal.

      • Where did you find the info that is illegal in Pa. because we are in a RV Park in Pa that is charging us nearly triple what PPL is charging them

  2. For extended stay campers this seems like a no brainier for everyone, as long as the cost isn’t jacked up on the tenant. For the traveler who is only staying one or two nights I believe this may cause as many or more negatives then positives for all parties.

    • When we bought our campground in 1999 many campgrounds were charging extra for air conditioning or electric heaters. It was a huge negative to the campers, so by and large, most campgrounds raised rates on everyone, and quite “policing” electrical usage.

      However, as times change, and people want to recharge cars (which fall under federal taxes & other criteria), run more gadgets (TV’s, Laptops, video games, etc.), recharge boat motors, run electric water heaters, or run their air conditions with their doors wide open, and purchase RVs which require higher amp services, etc. the costs to the campground continue to climb. In addition, most electric companies are charging campgrounds “on demand” pricing. So the more electricity campers use, the higher our rates become.

      In addition, current electrical system is taxed to the almost breaking point already in summer months due to swimming pools and air conditions in our rural community! As more and more electric vehicles and items come online that require recharging, those demands will increase exponentially, creating the need to produce even more electricity on this already overtaxed infrastructure. This will necessitate building more electrical plants to produce more electricity for this ever increasing demand, which again, drives up costs.

      Meters will directly impact that usage in a positive manner! If campers have to pay extra for those utilities that they are utilizing unnecessarily, then they will be more conservative, by default for their own expenses reduction.

      In addition, as newer models of RVs require larger amp services, the increased costs are passed on to RV Park and campground owners by default. If people want all the conveniences of home, why shouldn’t they bear the costs of those conveniences?

      Those costs will also create a pushback on RV manufacturers to produce RV’s with more efficient air conditioners, refrigerators, go back to lower cost utilities like propane water heaters and stoves, and more.

      And last, but certainly not least, most states (I believe and it is certainly true in PA) have laws against marking the electricity up. You can charge a meter reading fee, but you cannot charge more per KWHR than the electric company is charging you including their fees.

      As campers become more familiar with how much electricity their RV requires, they will be able to ask what the electric rate is per KWHR and calculate their electrical fees just like they do their costs for fuel to operate their RV or tow vehicle!

      Who knows, maybe someone will develop and an electrical use app just like Gas Buddy to tell you what the charges with your camping fee will be. Or campgrounds will list that on their websites or apps when you make a reservation.

  3. I have to agree with the comments so far. For those that camp often, budgeting is a crucial part. When I camp I need to know how much it will cost. Metering now introduces an unknown expense. How does this affect those travelling around the country? There will be this unknown varying cost every day. Different prices in different parts of the county or even in the same town. Different amounts of usage depending on a varying number of conditions.

    I think owners already know what their historical usages are. These are already, or should be, taken into account when determining camping fees. If utility companies are going to increase rates they communicate this in advance which would allow owners to recalculate how this would affect their camping fees.

    • Electricity does not grow on trees. SOMEONE has to pay for it. It is just fair that the one who uses it pays for it. It is other people’s problem that you camp often and have to budget? No.
      Why is a varying electricity cost a problem. Do you say the same about propane? The cost for your propane is varying according to your use and where you fill up your tank and the weather conditions. After a while you get a feel for your average propane costs and there are factors that you can control yourself to even lower the costs. You don’t complain about your varying propane cost nor that you even have to pay in advance when you fill up your tank, but you do have a problem with paying for your individual electricity use afterwards?

      Different prices in different regions are priced into your campground fee anyways. If it becomes transparent how much of it is billed for electricity it is to your advantage, you are able to control it just with the cost for propane.

  4. My experiences with MANY different owners and campgrounds have proven that the rates ARE, indeed, jacked up well over the owners cost per kW. In one particular case, the campground owner (accidentally) complained about having to pay 7-cent/kW on their barn property (they felt it should be 3-cents like the V park section was charged). However their fee to us was set at 15-cent/kW. So… YES, there is much incentive for the campground owner to jack up profits in addition to the nightly fee that can be (at times) a strain on a budget. I understand that the owner MUST make a profit in order to stay in business… but I don’t want to feel like I have to tighten my budget even further — as many of us have FIXED budgets — in order to let them live comfortably.

  5. As usual, there is not a “one case fits all answer”. As others have touched on, this might work good for long term visitors and campgrounds, but would lead to unnecessary complications for one-nighters.

  6. We only have one data point to draw from but we were very happy with the bottom line on an electric metered site we spent almost a month on in New Mexico last fall. The rate for the site was considerably lower bcuause the owner had a good idea of his cost and didn’t have to boost it to cover elec. We didn’t need AC or heat so didn’t use much elec. There was a slight bump in elec rate but not enough to mention. Bottom line, we spent almost a month on a site for less than the weekly advertise rate!

  7. Rving is expensive already. honestly, if we need to factor in electric we will be dry camping/moving on to the next non metered campground. end of story. we already pay bukko bucks to SCE at home, and with campground rates at or higher than 50$ night, its a reach trying to tack on electric. sad day for the penny saver camper. thats ok, we will just avoid these campgrounds. I call ahead to find out and then we fly by after I know the answer. really, what are we paying for at a campsite if its not utilities. Its not a Hotel. Nor is it a Chalet. Nor is it a resort. so, for 50$ we rent a concrete pad, and electric and water and sewer, wifi never works at campgrounds so to even say its included is a bit stretched, and we pay for washer dryer use if need be. Campgrounds can just go ahead and close up if they arent providing utilities, because a peice of conrcete isnt worth the rent by itself.

    • Wow.
      One would think that such a penny saver know it all camper like you would rush to get their piece of land in a sought after vacation area and start managing a campground themselves if it is such a money making machine.
      Let us see how you come up with the money for the land, the additional taxes and investment costs for the infrastructure you are complaining about, the workforce to maintain and run the business that you call a piece of concrete and nothing else.

      Go ahead, there are a lot of campers waiting for your penny on the dollars all inclusive resort campground!
      For people like you it would obviously be a overdue life lesson to walk in the shoes of those enterpreneurs that a carrying business risk on their shoulders and providing jobs!

  8. THERE IS NO FREE LUNCH!
    There is always someone else paying for it.

    Reading the comments I am surprised that many dismiss the idea of submetered utility costs.
    You read “I am on a fixed/tight/budget” or “it is already so expensive!” ” I need to know in advance what I will have to pay” and yada yada.
    It implies that if the utility costs were estimated by what everyone really used up they expect to pay more than what they pay now. To me it sounds as if a lot of RVers know quite well that they have a high usage and get away with it cheaply because the costs are distributed amongst all other campers on that particular campground, especially those with less fancy RVs who use less energy/water or those who have less people occupying one site than others. They seem to have gotten used to some kind of entitlement attitude here. They expect RVing to be the cheaper lifestyle/vacation style but not because it is cheaper per se, no, it is because they expect to shove some costs that they would be responsible for alone in a sticks and bricks house onto other people’s purses.

    Let us assume there are really laws and mechanisms in place to avoid that campground owners/managers tax the campers with a higher rate than what the supplier demands.
    Why would anyone have a problem with a transparent bill for what you have used?
    Why do they all dismiss the other possibility that you might end up paying less all in all than what you pay now via an intransparent all inclusive rate?
    Why would the couple with no kinds in their smaller RV want to pay via all inclusive rate for the neighbour with three kids, 40ft RV with three ACs and lots of showering every day, heating, gadgets that need electricity and so on?
    Those who complain obviously are the kind of “neighbours” who want to get away cheaper because someone else is paying their cheap lunch.

    So, I guess my point is clear: I would welcome a pricing strategy where I can transparently see what I am billed for, what I have used and hence why the price is as it is.

    As the article says, it would empower me to manage this part of the overall costs to MY benefit. It would make it easier to analyze whether it makes sense to invest in technology to make you independent from campground hook ups. It would speed up the time such an investment takes to pay for itself.

    Imagine a campground in summer that is submetering electricity for everybody and you recently invested into a solar system. You immediately profit, your investment immediately starts to pay for itself because you don’t need but maybe here and there use the campground shore power! With a submetered pricing strategy your costs would immediately go down, with the usual billing strategy your investment into a solar system does not have a direct benefit when you are in a campground – you get billed with the all inclusive rate anyway whether you used the electricity hook up or not.

    Only leechers have a problem and try to avoid individual pricing according to individual use.

  9. Do not mind paying for my electricity but do mind paying a high jacked up rate that a lot of these owners charge. That is not fair. . And glad to see some states are making it illegal to do it.

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