Prepare for high energy bills

Published 11:08 am Monday, January 15, 2018

Hopefully, everyone stayed warm during last week’s record-setting cold snap.

That weather system not only dumped 7-to-10 inches of snow across northeastern North Carolina and southside Virginia, but sent the mercury diving as low as minus eight degrees just before daybreak on Sunday, Jan. 7.

There was one stretch of nearly seven days where the daytime high temperature did not rise above the freezing mark. The average daytime temp locally for this time of the year is 48 degrees.

Now, area residents will feel the impact of the winter weather in another way…..higher energy bills.

Dominion Energy notes that customers used more power during that week than any on record to keep their homes and businesses warm and set a record on Saturday, Jan. 6 for the highest demand ever in a 24-hour period, according to company officials. Sunday, Jan. 7 was the second highest.

The same goes for Roanoke Electric Cooperative.

What does this mean for customer bills? Many will see bills that are higher than normal as their heating systems strained to keep pace with demand, drawing higher amounts of electricity to keep running.

At the same time, severe constraints on the pipelines serving Virginia and North Carolina caused record spikes in the price of natural gas, which will ultimately result in even higher electric bills for customers later this year.

Therefore customers will see higher bills now because they used more, and later, because the energy they used was more expensive than ever. By law, these fuel costs must be passed on to customers.

Upon receiving their electric power bill, customers may think they’re incorrect or worry that they can’t afford to pay them.

Janell M. Hancock, Senior Communications Specialist – Electric Media Relations with Dominion Energy – says that the weather is the big driver behind high bills.

“We are using our media outlets in Virginia and North Carolina to let our electric customers know we can help them work out a payment solution,” Hancock said. “We offer payment extensions, long-term payment plans, and bill payment assistance to help get them through a rough spot.”

Hancock said Dominion customers can log on to their online account for help or call 866-DOM-HELP.

As member-owners of Roanoke Electric Cooperative (REC) receive their electric bills in the coming days and weeks, many will notice the bill is higher than normal. “Did the electricity rate go up or is my meter turning too fast?” they might ask. The answer to both questions is no. Instead, they are likely seeing how extreme temperatures affect electricity use, and ultimately the electric bill.

“Winter Storm Grayson brought severe weather to our region and much of the eastern seaboard. As a result of the record-breaking low temperatures, winter energy use peaked,” said Curtis Wynn, REC president and chief executive officer. “These extreme temperatures created higher than normal electric bills for our members.”

Dec. 28 through Jan. 8 saw extreme temperatures of 27 degrees Fahrenheit or below throughout REC’s service territory. Such a significant drop in temperatures causes heating systems and water heaters to work harder in order to sustain heat. In addition, many people resort to using stand-alone space heaters for supplemental heat, which also increases energy use.

The co-op’s Chief Operating Officer Marshall Cherry said, “Members with electric heat or a heat pump with electric heat back-up will see a significant increase in their energy use during the recent 12 consecutive days of severely low temperatures. Under normal circumstances heating and cooling costs are frequently the largest part of a residential electric bill and can account for as much to two-thirds of energy use. And those 12 days were anything but normal.”

When temperatures drop, electric heating systems use more energy in order to sustain the temperature inside the home. The majority of heating units require some use of electricity, such as electric fans that must circulate heated air. So even homes with heating systems using natural gas, propane or oil likely used more electricity than usual.

“The same can be true for water heaters if they are located in unconditioned spaces such as a garage or basement,” said Cherry. “If a water heater is located in an area that is cold it must run longer in order to sustain the temperature of the water. An increase in energy use causes an increase in energy bills.”

“Roanoke Electric offers member-owners a variety options for how to pay and budget for their power bills, along with Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) support,” said Susan Tann, vice president of member services, marketing and public relations. “We encourage our member-owners to contact us at 252-209-2236 or for information and assistance.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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