BY LEANN DILBECK –
Some of the coldest winter temperatures in two decades have caused unusually high demand for electricity and as a result, led to higher energy bills for area residents for January. Local power companies, Rich Mountain Electric Cooperatives and AEP Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO®), both said that the hike in bills is a direct result of dramatically higher usage among its consumers.
In fact, Tuesday, January 7, set a new record for SWEPCO when its customers used 4,892 megawatts of electricity at 8:00 a.m., when the average daily temperature across SWEPCO’s three-state service area was 26 degrees. The previous SWEPCO record winter peak load had been 4,823 megawatts on February 2, 2011. One megawatt is a million watts.
January 7 was also record setting for Rich Mountain Electric, using 2,519 megawatts according to the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation of which Rich Mountain Electric is a member.
Rich Mountain Electric local manager Leon Philpot said that with the current weather forecast, February promises to also be a high usage month.
The National Weather Service in Little Rock said the January temperatures were the coldest in two decades in Arkansas. “Arctic outbreaks of this magnitude do not happen all that often,” the weather service said. “A preliminary look at data suggests an event such as this might occur every 20 to 30 years.”
Philpot said that there have been no changes in rates, fees or deposits. The co-op is a regulated member owned co-op that is regulated by the Arkansas Public Service Commission and is not motivated by profit but by providing the most reliable, efficient energy to its members at the lowest possible cost.
Philpot noted that members with homes in need of energy efficiency improvements often see steeper increases in usage and, as a result, higher bills. He said as an added service to its members they do offer free energy audits.
Peter Main, spokesperson for SWEPCO, dispelled any misinformation regarding ice storm costs being passed along to residents, “Customers are not seeing any surcharge for the recent ice storm damage. Any extraordinary storm recovery costs would have to be approved by the Arkansas Public Service Commission in future regulatory proceedings.”
He added, “If customers are seeing higher bills, they might look at actual kilowatt-hour usage. They may be using more electricity than the previous month, or they could compare to the same month last year. Extreme temperatures like we have experienced in Arkansas the last few months can always be a factor in electricity usage. If customers have questions about their bills or they are struggling to make payments, we encourage them to contact our Customer Solutions Center at 1-888-216-3523.”
His sentiments were echoed by Philpot, “We empathize with our customers during this harsh winter and are working hard to keep electric rates as affordable as possible,” Philpot said. “That’s why we are working so hard to spread the word about energy efficiency and the most cost-effective ways to do it. I encourage anyone struggling with paying their energy bill to call us about payment arrangements. We have programs in place to help you.”
Local agencies to call for assistance on paying energy bills are:
Salvation Army – 479-394-4885; ARVAC – 479-394-4707; Ninth Street Ministries – 479-394-2541.
Both power companies offer sources for energy saving tips. You may check out: http://www.smartenergytips.org or https://swepco.com/info/news/viewRelease.aspx?releaseID=1495