Winter cold pushes up power costs across Tennessee Valley

Winter cold pushes up power costs across Tennessee Valley

March 18th, 2015 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

A Red Bank Fire Department vehicle makes it's way along Dayton Blvd. after an overnight winter storm dumped over half of a foot on the area.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Andrea King used a couple of kerosene heaters this winter to help keep her East Chattanooga home warm, but the electric space heater she relied upon for most of her warmth still ended up costing her more than $728.87 to run over the past couple of months.

"We live in the front of our house and closed off the back of the house but in the winter it just costs way too much to keep our house heated," King said Tuesday while waiting at Metropolitan Ministries in Chattanooga to get some financial help to pay her power bill. "This time of year is always tough."

Consumers across the Tennessee Valley are paying the price these days for the frigid temperatures in January and February. In addition to the increased usage in the cold of winter, they also will have to absorb higher electric rates in April as part of TVA's fuel-cost increase stemming from last month's winter blast.

Although this winter was not as cold as last year -- and the official arrival of spring this Friday should further cut power consumption -- electricity use for most residential customers was still higher than normal during January and February.

TVA logo

TVA logo

By the numbers

The monthly bill for a typical Chattanooga household using 1,441 kilowatthours of electricity:
* March 2015 (current month): $145.34
* April 2015: $152.12
* April 2014: $155.56
Source: EPB

To pay for the extra fuel expenses for meeting the peak demand in February, the Tennessee Valley Authority plans to raise its monthly fuel cost adjustment in April by nearly 23 percent above the current level. The increase in the fuel-portion of the monthly light bill will cost an extra $6.78 in April for the typical household that relies upon electric heat and consumes an average 1,441 kilowatthours of electricity a month.

"Although this level is very consistent with our three-year average for April fuel costs, it is higher than March fuel costs with the change driven entirely by the record-setting cold weather in February," TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said. "The fuel costs always reflect the power used two months ago."

Despite the increase in rates from the current level, next month's power rates will still be lower than a year ago. Following the Polar Vortex in the winter of 2014, power rates for the average homeowner last April were actually $3.44 higher than what the same amount of power will cost next month.

EPB estimates the average residential customer consumed 1,534 kilowatthours in January and 1,595 killowatthours in February this year. A year ago, the average Chattanooga household consumed 17 percent more electricity, using 1,742 kilowatthours in January 2014 and 1,932 kilowatthours in February 2014.

That is little solace for many low-income Chattanoogans who are still struggling to pay for the power they used over the past couple of months.

Corey Robinson, 32, who is also disabled and also cares for his disabled mother, has had to spend more than $600 for electric heat this winter. Last winter, his bills totaled more than $700 to heat his 3-bedroom rental home in East Chattanooga.

"It's a struggle for all of us," he said Tuesday. "We've got to pay for our food, medicine, rent and everything else and then we get hit with these high light bills. How can you pay for all that on a fixed income?"

George Miller, a 50-year-old East Chattanooga renter who says his monthly electric bill was $397 for his three-bedroom home, said his power bills have never been higher.

"I just thank God that there are people trying to help us out," he said while waiting for asssistance from Metropolitan Ministries. "I can't say too much bad about the Electric Power Board because they are working with me and haven't cut off my power. But it's a real struggle for a lot of folks."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.