No one likes to be surprised with a higher than expected electric bill. But the fact is that weather can cause energy use to vary significantly throughout the year. Consumers will likely see higher electric bills as a result of the recent extremely cold weather that had Virginia shivering for extended periods of temperatures in the teens and single digits.
Paul Gillespie, REC’s energy advisor, says, “The colder the temperature, the more electricity you use. Regardless of the type of heating system in your home, when it’s very cold like it has been recently, a home heating system runs longer to generate heat and circulate warm air through the home. If you use a heat pump, which is very efficient and effective in normal winter weather, it has to use another form of auxiliary heat to maintain comfort when the outside temperature falls below the 20 to 25 degree range. The auxiliary system, whether it runs on fossil fuel or electric resistance heat, can add significantly to your home heating costs. There are also lots of ‘hidden’ users of electricity in weather like this, such as light bulbs or heat tape used to keep pipes from freezing in unheated spaces. Simply put, January’s extreme cold resulted in much more energy use than normal.”
The weather can affect energy use in other ways, too. “More people stay inside on cold days, using more electricity than they would if they weren’t home,” notes Gillespie. “For several days in a row children were home due to schools being closed. That means lights, TVs, and computers were on more than normal. And, in weather like this, people tend to cook more, sometimes having a hot meal for lunch as well as dinner. More hot water is used this time of year as well; there’s more laundry due to wearing layers of clothes, more dishes to wash, and more hot showers, all leading to more electricity use than normal.”
December 2013 was colder than the previous last two years for the month, and the same is true for January 2014. Preliminary data from the National Weather Service indicates that the average temperature in January was about 4 degrees colder than normal and that heating degree days (a scientific measurement of the difference between the average temperature and 65 degrees) were about ten percent higher than normal.
According to Kris Sieber, REC’s director of member services, recent bills have reflected increased energy use of just over twelve percent higher than last January. “REC has options for members who are experiencing a high electric bill and want to better manage their energy usage and budget,” explains Sieber. “The Cooperative has a billing option called Budget Billing, which helps residential members plan for their monthly bills in an affordable manner. The Budget Billing payment amount is based on the monthly bill average over the previous 12 months, so it helps members avoid unpleasant surprises when usage suddenly increases due to hotter or colder than normal weather.”
Fortunately for REC members, on Jan. 1 the Cooperative lowered its power cost charge. That reduction means members are paying about $3.20 per 1,000 kWh less now than they were in December.
Weather doesn’t have to play havoc with electricity bills. There are a variety of tools, appliances and resources available to solve all sorts of energy challenges. Gillespie encourages members to utilize the Cooperative’s online Billing Insights tool to gain an in-depth look at their individual energy use. With recommendations for areas of the home to look for improvements, this tool also provides no-cost/low-cost recommendations. Visit www.myrec.coop and look for the tool under My Account > About Your Bill. Billing Insights is part of REC’s online Home Energy Suite.
If a member would like to discuss their energy use or electric bill, the Cooperative’s energy advisors can walk members through their energy usage patterns and help them determine if something, such as faulty equipment within the home, is causing the increase. By contacting REC immediately, members can possibly avoid the same experience in coming months.
REC provides electric service to over 158,000 connections in parts of 22 Virginia counties. With its general office in Fredericksburg, Va., Rappahannock operates and maintains more than 16,000 miles of power lines through its service area, which ranges from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay. For information about REC, please visit us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or our website, www.myrec.coop.