The new year came in with a period of extended sub-freezing temperatures, the full impact of which won’t be known until people get their monthly power bill.
Utilities are reporting consumers cranked up their energy usage during the month, and many may discover they ran their bill up higher than expected.
Progress Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks said the utility company hit a cold weather all-time high for peak demand between 7 and 8 a.m. on Jan. 11, eclipsing the previous all-time cold weather high set on Dec. 6, 2007.
“We have clearly seen demand go up pretty dramatically during the month,” Brooks said last week. “January and February are typically a higher usage period, but because of the extended cold weather we’ve seen record amounts of kilowatt hours of electricity being used this year.”
He said that besides the obvious, heating energy usage, there are other factors that may contribute to a higher bill.
“When it’s as cold outside as it’s been, people tend to stay inside more,” Brooks explained. “That means the heater’s on, but it also means that your plasma televisions, and all those other expensive appliances, are using energy too.”
Brooks said there are ways that customers can protect themselves from high energy bills.
First, consumers should set their thermostat in the 66 to 68 degree range, rather than above 70 degrees, Brooks said.
“Each additional degree under 70 that you keep it inside will knock about 8 to 10 percent off your energy bill,” Brooks explained.
He also suggested consumers keep a check on the air filters in their ventilation system, turn the temperature of water on the water heater back to 120 degrees and keep the blinds closed on the north side of the house and open on the south side of the house.
“The reason for this is that during the winter, the sun tends to be in the south, and when you open those blinds you allow the natural warmth into your home,” Brooks explained.
Additionally, consumers should make sure their windows and doors are sealed and close the flu on fireplaces to stop warm air from escaping.
Once the damage is done, and there is a bill that’s too expensive for a customer to afford, Brooks said there are still steps that can be taken to alleviate the suffering.
“There is our Energy Neighbor Fund, an assistance program to help people with high bills because of heating, in particular,” Brooks explained. “However, they don’t have to be electric heating customers to participate, it’s for any of our customers.”
There is also an Energy Crisis Assistance Plan available through county social services departments.
Brooks also suggested Progress customers look into the utility’s equal payment plan, which takes the past year of usage and averages it out so that bills don’t skyrocket during heavy usage periods.
“The biggest thing is that we encourage our customers if they are experiencing problems paying their bill to contact our customer service center as early in the process as possible so that our representatives can help them find ways to keep their bill current and keep from having their service disconnected,” Brooks said.
He also noted that when temperatures are below 32 degrees at any point in the day, service will not be disconnected.
The Progress Energy Customer Service Center may be reached at 1 800-452-2777.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.