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Ahead of what is traditionally one of the busiest weeks of the year for vacations and leisure travel, gas prices in Chattanooga jumped by more than 10 cents a gallon last week to the highest levels since the coronavirus pandemic shut down many businesses in mid March, according to gas price surveys by GasBuddy.com.

Chattanooga gas prices rose 28.4 cents per gallon in the past month as the economy reopened and more Americans began hitting the road again and demand for fuel rebounded from the depressed levels this spring.

But the American Automobile Association said travel is still down for the first time in more than a decade this summer, cutting travel by 14.6% from year-ago levels.

"Americans will get out and explore this summer though they're taking a 'wait and see approach' when it comes to booking and are likely to book more long weekend getaways than extended vacations," said Paula Twidale, AAA's senior vice president of travel.

After canceling its annual Memorial Day and July 4th travel forecast because of the pandemic, AAA predicts instead that Americans will take over 700 million trips in July, August and September, which is 120 million fewer trips than in 2019.

The overall 14.6% decline in travel is primarily because of reduced air travel, which is projected to plunge by 74% from year-ago levels in the next three months.

One silver lining for the pandemic and its impact on travel is cheaper prices at the pump.

GasBuddy.com said the $1.94 per gallon average price for regular gas in Chattanooga at the start of this week is 40 cents a gallon cheaper than a year ago. Chattanooga gas prices on Sunday also averaged 23 cents a gallon less than the U.S. average, GasBuddy.com said.

"Gasoline prices have continued to rise across the U.S., a streak that enters its ninth week, but with a resurgence in COVID-19 cases across several states.. there may eventually be a small reckoning in the price of gasoline," said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. "Improvement and a slowdown in COVID would cause gas prices to continue rising, while a continued resurgence in COVID-19 cases and a drop in gasoline demand will mean lower gas prices."

According to GasBuddy price reports, the cheapest stations in the Chattanooga area on Monday were the Sam's Club on Lee Highway and the Costco's in Ringgold, Georgia, both of which were selling regular gas for $1.66 a gallon.

 

Electricity cheaper than a year ago

The drop in fuel demand is also helping to keep electricity prices down from a year ago.

The Tennessee Valley Authority will adjust its monthly fuel costs on Wednesday up slightly, which is typical for July when hot temperatures push up power consumption and boost use of more expensive generating sources.

EPB said the typical Chattanooga household using 1,295 kilowatthours of electricity a month will pay an extra 94 cents, or 0.7% more, than the current June rate for electricity. But prices at the electric meter will still be down nearly 3% from a year ago due to the lower fuel cost adjustment fee added on to the base rate, which TVA has not changed in the past year.

"The overall system average fuel rate for July is approximately 26% lower than the three-year average July fuel cost," TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said. "The much lower fuel rate is primarily due to the pandemic impacts and mild weather, which caused significantly lower sales than expected."

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

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