Cold snap spikes heating bills


Staff Writer

Saturday, January 13, 2018

No matter how Twin Counties residents heat their homes, their bill will likely spike this month.

The average temperature for the first seven days of 2017 was 44 degrees. The first seven days of 2018 had an average temperature of 19 degrees. The cold snap translates into higher than normal usage for electric customers because of increased energy use to heat their homes. Natural gas customers will also see an increase to the cost of heating their homes due to the extremely cold temperatures affecting Eastern North Carolina.

“When outside temperatures are this cold for this long, it causes a significant increase in the demand for natural gas to heat homes and businesses and to generate electricity,” said Rich Worsinger, Rocky Mount's director of Energy Resources. “This higher demand for gas has drastically increased the cost of pipeline capacity to transport the gas from the wellhead to the end users, including the city of Rocky Mount.”

Due to the higher pipeline capacity cost, the city's utilities department had to increase the Purchased Gas Adjustment from $0.00 to $0.30 per therm beginning Monday. This yields a residential gas rate of $1.41646 perm therm for the first 10 therms and $1.15183 per therm for more than 10 therms. The increase to the PGA means the cost of using 100 therms for a residential customer in January will increase from $121.83 to $151.83. The PGA increase will remain in place throughout the winter months, said Amy Blanton, the city's energy resources communications coordinator.

For folks who use electric heat, the main increase in usage is the heating source. The greater the temperature difference between inside and outside, the harder a heating system has to work to maintain comfortable indoor temperature, according to officials with Edgecombe-Martin County EMC.

The colder the outdoor temperature, the less efficient heat pumps work, and while heating accounts for about 50 percent of an average home’s electric bill, heat pumps actually work best when the outdoor temperature is above freezing. During extended periods with temperatures below 32 degrees, most heat pumps will not be able to keep the room heated to the setting on the thermostat.

As for natural gas, it's a commodity traded on the open market and its price is based on supply and demand. In addition to buying natural gas on the open market, utilities like the city of Rocky Mount also pay to have it transported from the wellhead. Rates are set using a base rate that accounts for transportation, commodity and utility costs. Based on the fluctuating price of the delivered natural gas, rates may be adjusted each month using a rate mechanism called the Purchase Gas Adjustment. Utilities like the city don't profit from the fluctuations in gas costs. Instead, all costs associated with increases or decreases in the commodity price of natural gas are passed along to customers.

Whether heating with electricity or gas, there are a few things residents can do to help with higher bills:

■ Sign up for budget billing, if available. Under these types of plans, monthly payments are based on a 12-month average so each month the payments are the same amount.

■ Use an app to look at your daily usage so you will know how much energy you are using during extreme weather periods.

■ Look for ways to seal air leaks for the cold air coming into the house.

■ Leave the temperature set at 68 degrees. Any increase on the thermostat beyond 3 degrees at a time is less energy efficient and actually costing more money.

■ Limit the number of times a home is entered and exited. Every time a door is opened, a tremendous amount of warm air is lost, and the house's heating source has to run more to recover.