Rose White has lived in her Fairington Circle home for nearly three years, but she never received a $500 EPB bill until this month.
"I was in shock," said the single mom of five. "I showed my son, and he said, 'Oh, my God,' and started turning off everything."
White is among several Chattanoogans complaining about high electric bills for December.
But those bills are just a sign of things to come because they don't reflect the early January deep freeze that saw record cold as temperatures dipped into the single digits.
"These bills are reflecting December," said EPB spokesman John Pless. "Of course January was the big month, so we know that customers are going to receive electric bills that reflect a much higher energy usage ... that will come out the next calendar month."
White received her latest EPB bill on Jan. 6, but it was on Jan. 7 that the low in Chattanooga hit 5 degrees and Pless said EPB experienced record power demand from people trying to warm their homes.
In fact, average temperatures in December were slightly above average. But on 14 nights, the low temperatures were below freezing. That's likely to blame for the higher December bills, Pless said.
The weather, of course, is the main factor. But, said Pless, "second is the type of heating and air-conditioning system they have."
He said heat pumps operate at maximum efficiency only to a certain point. But in lower temperature ranges they don't function as they normally would and require an auxiliary or emergency heat mode that uses more energy.
So far, Pless said, EPB hasn't seen an increase in calls from customers concerned about their bills.
But there seems to be plenty of concern to go around.
Anna Dean, of Rossville, said her latest EPB bill hit $528. Dorothy Burgess, of East Chattanooga, said she got her highest bill ever this month at $483. Dawn Thornton's December bill hit $650, also the highest bill she's received in the 13 years she's lived in her Lakesite home.
According to United Way officials, the agency received 607 calls in December from people requesting utility assistance or information about utility assistance, compared to 407 calls made in December 2012.
White said she's making payment arrangements on her bill and has started turning off all electricity while her children are at school and only turning the heat up to 70 at night.
Burgess said she hardly ever cooks with her stove, instead using the microwave.
And Thornton said she's unplugging all unnecessary cords before leaving her home. She's also asking her children to wear socks and sweaters inside the home and is turning down her thermostat from 70 to 68 degrees to cut costs.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org.