It isn't even officially summer yet, but the heat index has already reached triple digits for three consecutive days and pushed up electricity use in the Tennessee Valley to an all-time high for June, even as power costs and bills continue to rise.
Electricity use across the seven-state region served by the Tennessee Valley Authority rose Monday to a new record for June, rising to 31,311 megawatts when the temperature rose to 96 degrees Fahrenheit in Chattanooga and an average of 94 degrees Fahrenheit across the entire Tennessee Valley, TVA spokesman Scott Fiedler said. Peak demand was only slightly less at 30,072 MW on Tuesday and is expected to be near or perhaps even above Monday's peak before the heatwave begins to ease this weekend.
"We're seeing July temperatures already in June and with the increased economic growth we continue to see in the Valley, our power demand is up," Fiedler said. "Fortunately, TVA is ready and we continue to deliver reliable power even during this very hot weather."
But while air-conditioned homes and offices may stay cool, ratepayers will still feel the heat on their pocketbooks when electricity bills come due this summer. TVA announced Wednesday it will impose the highest fuel cost adjustment in the program's history next month, boosting electricity rates for Chattanooga households by 18.2% above the price of electricity a year ago.
For the typical Chattanooga household that uses 1,295 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month, the extra fuel surcharge will boost July's power bill by $23.42 above what was charged for such power a year ago. If temperatures stay above normal, the increase in costs will be even more.
"As natural gas prices have increased substantially at the national and global level, TVA has raised the monthly Fuel Cost Adjustment portion of the electric rate to cover these additional costs during the month of July," TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said in an announcement of the higher electricity rates.
Brooks said the July fuel rate is up 123% from the average of the past three years due primarily to higher fuel and operating costs and also projections of a 10% rise in power consumption in the Tennessee Valley compared with the 2019-2021 period. Higher power peaks force TVA to turn to more expensive sources of power, Brooks said.
Despite the record spike in TVA's monthly fuel cost adjustment, some other electric utilities are raising rates far more than TVA due to higher costs for fuel and other inflationary pressures.
In New Hampshire, for instance, one of the state's biggest utilities, Liberty Utilities, is preparing to double its price of electricity to cover the projected high costs of natural gas. In a Monday filing with the Public Utilities Commission, Liberty Utilities proposed increasing the per kilowatt-hour price of electricity from 11.11 cents to 22.23 cents, starting in July.
Higher natural gas prices and other inflationary pressures will increase power prices even as hotter temperatures boost consumption due to higher use of air conditioners to cope with the heatwave. TVA generates about 26% of its electricity from natural gas, which has more than doubled in price over the past year.
On Wednesday, The National Weather Service projected temperatures would reach 98 degrees in Chattanooga, tying the record high set in 1952. Temperatures topped out in Chattanooga at 96 degrees on both Monday and Tuesday, just shy of the record highs for those dates, and a similar high of 97 degrees Fahrenheit is forecast for Thursday in Chattanooga.
With relatively high humidity, the heat index — or how the weather feels to the typical person — has soared this week to between 105 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Jeremy Buckles, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tennessee.
"We have this very large ridge of high pressure and hot temperatures across the entire Southeast which is causing record or near-record high temperatures," Buckles said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "This is really excessive and even dangerous heat that we're seeing this week for many people."
Buckles said temperatures should moderate and cool some this weekend, but temperatures are forecast to be back in the '90s in Chattanooga next week and the long-range forecast by the weather service is for higher than normal temperatures over the next several weeks.
HOW TO LIMIT COSTS
To help homeowners limit the fiscal impact of the hot weather on their air conditioners and power bills, EPB suggests homeowners take some simple steps to limit their power consumption:
— Keep blinds and curtains closed on the sunny side of your home.
— Turn off nonessential lights.
— Unplug appliances, electronics and other electrical equipment when not in use.
— Wait until early morning or late at night to use major appliances such as dishwashers, dryers and washing machines.
— Use ceiling and floor fans to keep air moving in your home.
— Set your thermostat to 72 degrees. Then increase by 1 degree at a time to find the highest setting that feels comfortable. Adjusting your thermostat by even a single degree to reduce energy consumption can save 3% on energy bills.
EPB Energy Pros are also available to offer free expertise, tips and videos to help customers save energy and money. More information is available at EPB.com/energypros.
Recently, there has been persistent upward and volatile movement in worldwide natural gas markets, and the monthly fuel cost will likely remain elevated in the upcoming months.
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