Higher power bills possible due to greater demand
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Jan 30, 2014 | 4497 views |  0 comments | 68 68 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Electrical power customers could soon see higher bills due to above-average demand for electricity during the recent snow storm and most of January.

Alyson Tucker, spokeswoman for Alabama Power, said customers’ bills could rise, even for those who participate in the company's budget billing program.

The budget billing program is designed to ease the burden of rate spikes caused by weather by spreading the cost over a 12-month period. Budget bill customers' monthly bills are figured on a rolling 12-month average and are evaluated monthly.

"Higher usage could impact those averages and might trigger an adjustment," Tucker said. "The benefit is that it allows customers to pay their higher bills over an extended period of time."

Tucker did not specify by how much bills could increase, but noted there has been considerable demand. Tucker said Southern Company, one of the nation's largest electricity producers and operator of Alabama Power, reached a historic peak winter demand earlier this month.

"And there has been an increase in demand over the last few days due to the frigid temperatures we are experiencing and people needing and using more power," Tucker said. "But the winter storm demand for the past several days, while higher than average, was not as high as earlier this month."

For comparison, the Southern Company's peak demand was 45,887 megawatts between 7 and 8 a.m. Jan. 7. On Thursday morning, the peak was 43,782 megawatts.

A megawatt is a unit of measurement for electric power.

Wayne Mizzell, owner of Mizzell Heating and Air Conditioning in Oxford, said for the most part, electric heat pumps are cheaper to operate in the winter than natural gas furnaces, but not during significant cold.

"When it's really cold, gas is probably a little bit cheaper," Mizzell said. "But we have such mild winter weather in Alabama ... when you look at the whole winter combined, operating a heat pump is cheaper."

Mizzell said the recent cold weather has increased his business in terms of repair work, mainly for residential customers.

"Oh yeah, we've done a lot of repair work," he said. "Demand has been very high this year."

Tucker said that though electricity use is up, Alabama Power has had no trouble meeting demand. She added that the company faced few problems and outages in Calhoun County during the snowstorm.

Tucker said the minimal outages related to the snow were primarily due to motorists colliding with poles, resulting in downed power lines. She said ice on power lines also caused some damage and outage issues.

"Fortunately, east Alabama and Calhoun County had large amounts of snow on the lines but very little ice," Tucker said. "We were able to keep the power on for most of our customers and worked as quickly and safely as possible to restore power."

Other Alabama Power customers around the state were not quite as lucky. According to an Alabama Power press release, 13,600 of its customers were without power early Wednesday. However by late Thursday morning, all but 6,700 customers had their power restored. The company expected to have all power restored by the end of Thursday.

Sherri Goodman, spokeswoman for Alagasco, said her company has seen increased use of natural gas and expects the trend to continue this winter.

"We did see an increase in usage in December compared to a year ago," Goodman said. "I definitely expect we will see higher numbers in January as well."

Goodman was unable to provide specific details about demand for the state or Calhoun County by Thursday evening. However, she did note that Alagasco customers would likely not see their bills increase due to the recent high demand.

"In terms of natural gas prices, our underground natural gas storage and our liquid natural gas plants provide a cushion in high-usage times, which helps us mitigate price fluctuations," Goodman said.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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