Colder temps mean higher utility bills

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – If you reacted with disbelief to your recent heating bill, you weren’t alone.
Unusually high charges this month prompted a flurry of calls to utility companies from customers apparently skeptical of the amounts.
“They wanted us to check to make sure our readings were right,” said Tupelo Water & Light Manager Johnny Timmons. “Well, we checked them, and they were right.”
Extreme cold across the region in December and January meant heating units worked overtime to maintain a warm interior temperature – even for customers with thermostats set at the recommended 68 degrees.
“When it’s that cold outside, it’s just going to require more energy to keep the house warm,” Timmons said.
Customers have inundated the phone lines at Tombigbee Electric Power Association, too, said David Kelso, member services director.
“It’s pretty much one call after another,” he said. “This is the coldest weather we’ve had in two years.”
Last month’s average temperature was 39.9 degrees with a low of 14, according to the National Weather Service. That’s compared to the previous December, whose average temperature was 42.1 degrees with a low of 22.
This month is even colder. So far, the average temp has been 35.6 degrees – more than two degrees colder than last January. And the temperature has dipped as low as 7 degrees this month.
Expect to see the results of those frigid days in your next heating bill.
Both Tupelo Water & Light and Tombigbee buy their power from the Tennessee Valley Authority, which in October 2009 raised its rates by 8 percent.
Those costs were passed on to local customers, who initially didn’t feel the pinch because of last winter’s milder weather. But it has become more apparent now as the temperatures continue to plummet.
“One guy had a bill that was $728,” Timmons said. “He was pretty upset. It was out of whack from his typical bill.”
Another customer saw her bill climb 44 percent – from $166 this month last year to $240 during the same period this year.
Not complaining, apparently, are customers of Atmos Energy. Company spokesman Robert Lesley said customer service records show no increase in calls this winter.
That’s probably because gas rates fell a bit since last year – by about 10 cents per every 100 cubic feet, according to an Atmos customer’s most recent bill.
But even gas bills spike in the winter, with charges reaching several hundred dollars a month for some residents.
Until the temperatures warm, utility officials suggest lowering the thermostat and winterizing the house. And maybe putting some money aside for that next heating bill.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.