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TVA lets Chickamauga Lake flow through the gates at the Chickamauga Dam after 10 p.m.

Electricity users in the Tennessee Valley will enjoy cheaper rates next month as falling natural gas prices and abundant rain combine to cut the cost of TVA power.

The typical Chattanooga homeowner who uses electric heat and consumes an average 1,295 kilowatthours of electricity a month will see his or her monthly electric bill in March shrink by 2.1 percent, or $2.99, compared with a year ago, EPB spokesman John Pless said.

TVA is cutting its monthly fuel cost adjustment next month to the lowest monthly fuel cost since October 2017.

By the numbers

For a typical Chattanooga household using 1,295 kilowatthours of power, the electric bill is:

› $141.117 for next month

› $142.78 for February 2019

› $144.16 for March 2018

Source: EPB

"The overall system average fuel rate for March is approximately 7 percent lower than the three-year average March fuel cost," TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said. "This is primarily due to expectations for lower sales in March (milder weather) and lower expected prices for purchased power and natural gas. This is a fairly significant drop from February."

The fuel cost portion of TVA bills for most residential and business customers drops by 6.2 percent from 1.909 cents per kilowatthour in February to 1.73 cents per kilowatthour next month.

With help from Mother Nature and cheaper fuel, TVA managed to boost its income in fiscal 2018 while still reducing the average cost of delivered power to the nearly 10 million customers served by the federal utility. TVA has kept electric rates relatively stable for the past five years and cut the inflation-adjusted cost of its power more than most electric utilities, according to data compiled by the Energy Information Administration.

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Senior operator Ray Blankenship turns on a generator from the control room of TVA's Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Plant on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The hydroelectric facility halted tours for the public after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, but they began offering tours again this year.

In addition to cheaper natural gas and less reliance on more expensive purchased power as the weather moderates, TVA is also benefiting by above-average output from its cheapest source of electricity — hydroelectric generation from its own 29 power-generating dams. Although TVA initially derived nearly all of its electricity in the 1930s from its hydroelectric dams, TVA now averages about 10 percent of its power generation from its hydro units.

Last year was the wettest year on record in Chattanooga with more than 67 inches of rain, or 15 inches above the normal yearly total. In the first two months of 2019, rainfall in Chattanooga has totaled nearly 17.9 inches in Chattanooga, or 90 percent above normal.

Brooks said extra hydro generation helped, but most of the improved rates have come from less energy use, improved efficiency measures and cheaper fuel prices. Too much rainfall can actually hurt some hydro generation at TVA dams, he said.

"We've had to stop some of our hydro units at Kentucky (Dam) periodically in the last two weeks because the water levels in front of the dam were too high and we couldn't pull water through the turbines," Brooks said.

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

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