But Southern California Edison is rolling out a $1.6 billion "smart meter" program that will make the process a lot easier for customers.
And these are not your father's utility meters.
Edison's SmartConnect meters are digital, two-way communicating devices that measure up-to-the-minute electricity usage.
When the program is fully implemented in the second half of 2010, customers will be able to view their energy usage the following day from a computer, cell phone or other device, helping them track how much they use and how much it's costing them.
"We're trying to get customers so they equate energy use with what they are doing at home," said Lynda Ziegler, SCE's senior vice president of customer service.
With traditional meters, it can be tough for consumers to determine why their energy bills are high or why they may have spiked during certain times, she said.
"You get a bill a month later and you really don't know what you did," Ziegler said.
The first smart meter was installed in Downey in September. SCE customers in portions of Montebello, Alhambra, East Los Angeles, El Monte, Monterey Park, Industry, Rosemead, San Gabriel, Pico Rivera and Whittier will be receiving new meters during the spring of 2010.
Installations will continue through 2012 until all of SCE's nearly 5million residential and small-business customers in Edison's 50,000-square-mile service area have the new meters.
The high-tech devices are being installed by Corix Utilities, whose clients include cities, resort properties, gas, water and electric utilities, developers and institutions.
Ziegler said many consumers don't realize how much power some appliances use.
"The biggest energy user is the air conditioner, although that's not so much an issue during the winter," she said. "Another big power user is the refrigerator. Many people have a second refrigerator in their garage. If they can get rid of that... that's one way to really save."
SCE customers who opt to jettison their old energy-guzzling refrigerators can receive a reward from Edison, according to Ziegler.
"We pick them up, and you can get a $50 rebate," Ziegler said.
Edison also warns customers of "energy vampires," electronic devices that still draw electricity even when they are off or in "sleep" mode.
"Most of the TVs today are digital, and even when you turn them off they are still using some power," Ziegler said. "You can put them on a power strip and turn it off when you're gone."
Edison's SmartConnect program was authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission. SCE expects use of the new meters will reduce demand on the electricity grid by about 1,000 megawatts, the amount of energy produced at an average power plant.
SCE, a division of Edison International in Rosemead, is touting the smart meters as "a key step in transforming the electric system to a smart grid."
Ken Devore, who heads SCE's Edison SmartConnect program, put it in a bigger context. "By giving our customers new tools and services to help them better manage their energy use, we can work together to build a smarter, cleaner energy future," Devore said in a statement.