With overnight temperatures falling below freezing this weekend, amid the coldest weather so far this season, Chattanooga homeowners are bracing for what is expected to be a costlier winter for heating their homes.
But homeowners who heat with electricity and have had to pay record-high prices this year will get a bit of a reprieve next month when the Tennessee Valley Authority cuts its fuel cost adjustment in its biggest monthly cut since June.
Electricity prices remain above 2021 levels due to a doubling of natural gas prices in the past year and higher prices for coal. But with base rates constant and some recent drops in gas prices, EPB plans to cut the delivered price of its electricity in December by about 2.5% below current rates.
For the average Chattanooga residential electricity customer who uses 1,295 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month, the December power bill will be $135.92, or $3.46 less than what such a homeowner would pay for that power this month. However, prices are still up 2.7%, or $3.55, more than what they paid for such power in December 2021.
TVA is keeping its base electric rates unchanged in its new fiscal year for the fourth consecutive year, and TVA's monthly fuel cost adjustment, which jumped to a record high in August, has eased as natural gas and coal prices have fallen off of their all-time highs.
"Natural gas prices, in particular, are still very volatile in both directions," TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said in a report on the December fuel cost price.
COLDER WEEK AHEAD
Chattanooga's weather is also proving volatile this fall. After several weeks of above-average temperatures, the mercury dipped to 29 degrees early Friday and is forecast to be even lower early Saturday and Sunday as Chattanoogans get a pre-Thanksgiving dose of freezing weather this weekend. Temperatures are 10 to 20 degrees below normal and the coldest since April.
"We've had a lot of cold air coming down from the north and multiple cold fronts coming through the area," Lyle Wilson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tennessee, said in a telephone interview.
High temperatures for most days in Chattanooga are only expected to be in the 50s in the coming week.
FEELING THE HEAT
TVA has replenished fuel stockpiles and performed maintenance on many of its power plants this fall to prepare for colder weather this winter.
Brooks said natural gas, purchased power and coal prices are up an average of 41% over what they have averaged in the past three years. But TVA derives more than 60% of its electricity from generation that is not from volatile fossil fuel sources, including generation from its seven nuclear reactors, 29 hydroelectric dams and an array of both TVA-owned and private solar farms.
Higher coal and gas prices are projected to boost the delivered price of electricity by about 10% in the Tennessee Valley compared to last winter. But TVA's price increases are only about a third as much as the 28% jump in natural gas prices or the 27% increase in heating oil expected this winter, according to the latest forecast by the Energy Information Administration.
"Our portfolio gives us an edge since 60% or more of our power doesn't really have any volatile fuel costs (coming from hydro, nuclear or solar), and we've taken advantage of the relatively mild weather this fall to build up our coal piles and to get our gas price hedging program in line," TVA President Jeff Lyash told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in a phone interview last week. "I wish we didn't have to raise our fuel cost adjustments for our customers, but the global situation doesn't make that possible. We think we are in a position to be able to moderate that fuel cost impact."
Despite lower fuel costs, peak energy use season will result in higher bills for many customers. To help minimize the jump in power bills during the coldest months of the year, EPB encourages customers to sign up for levelized billing to equalize their electric bills throughout the year.
To reduce consumption, EBP also offers free phone consultations or in-person home energy checkups with the EPB Energy Pros. EPB customers may call 423-648-1372 or visit epb.com to find out more information about the energy assistance programs.