Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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January 23, 2014

Nightmare electric bills

Colder winter causes problems

Athens — Electric bills have already taken a big bite out of some people’s budgets this winter, and the National Weather Service is saying more cold weather is settling in.

The National Weather Service recorded 21 days at or below the freezing mark in Athens during December. December was ranked as one of the coldest on record with an average low temperature of 32.68 degrees. The last time we’ve seen such extended periods of cold, fuel costs were much lower, so many customers are seeing their biggest electric bill ever.

“I think people have gotten used to mild winters,” Oncor Area Manager Tom Trimble said.  “When you see mild winters year-after-year, you expect them. It surprises people.”

Those with heat pumps are in for an even bigger shock.

“When it gets really cold, your heat pumps can’t keep up with it,” Trimble said. “They’re not very efficient. They go into kind of an emergency-heat situation. It goes to heat strips and uses resistance power. That is a lot more expensive, and uses a lot more kilowatt hours.”

When the energy costs are so high, customers have trouble paying the bill.  Oncor won’t turn off the power in times of extreme cold.

“If it’s really cold weather, we get a notice from our office saying we won’t disconnect,” Trimble said. “But with deregulation, if the service provider tells us to disconnect a house, we don’t have any choice.”

Oncor Electric tells customers to keep the thermostat at no higher than 68 degrees in winter or lower than 78 degrees in summer. Turn off the lights when you leave a room, and turn off devices not in use.

The Trinity Valley Electric website tells customers that many electronics continue to use a small amount of power when they are turned off. Phantom loads can be avoided by unplugging the device from the wall outlet, or utilizing a power strip to cut off all power to the appliance.

TVEC customers with advanced meters can go online and track how much energy they use each day.  They can also compare the temperatures each day with the kilowatt usage. Oncor has also installed “smart meters,” and gives customers the chance to see their power usage, and possibly make adjustments, if they’re headed for a big electric bill.

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