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Shocked by your January power bill? Here’s why it’s so high

A thin layer of ice and snow dusts the beach in Biloxi on Jan. 18. The cold weather this winter in South Mississippi caused a spike in power bills.
A thin layer of ice and snow dusts the beach in Biloxi on Jan. 18. The cold weather this winter in South Mississippi caused a spike in power bills. amccoy@sunherald.com file

Anyone who complained about the frigid weather last month now has even more to grumble about as January electric bills are considerably higher than last winter.

Why? It was a lot colder this year.

There were just five days of temperatures below 40 degrees last December and January, according to the National Weather Service.

This year, there were 21 days at or below freezing. And temperatures even dipped down to 20 degrees.

“Electricity use is significantly impacted by weather,” said said April Lollar, director of communications for Coast Electric Power Association. “And with the many days of frigid temperatures we experienced in December and January, energy use is up, which means bills are higher.”

Straining the grid

Weather is the main reason Mississippi Power customers are seeing higher January bills, said spokesman Jeff Shepard. But bills also went up — by about $4 for the average residential customer — because the Public Service Commission approved a fuel adjustment cost increase for Mississippi Power and Entergy on Jan. 16. That increase is included in the January bill, he said, and the company does not earn any profit on that charge.

The cold weather even closed most of South Mississippi on Jan. 17, when snow and ice made roads dangerous. The low temperature dropped to 17 degrees in Gulfport and the daytime high was 37 degrees, according to AccuWeather. People cranked up the heat to stay warm and prevent frozen pipes.

The severe cold put such a strain on power grids, that both Singing River Electric and Coast Electric asked customers to reduce their usage that day to keep the grid balanced.

“We had a lot of really cold weather and we all used a lot of energy,” said Lorri Freeman, manager of public relations for Singing River Electric Cooperative. Heat pumps that typically are very efficient in South Mississippi don’t operate as well when temperatures fall below 20 degrees, she said. And using portable heaters can cost as much as $4 a day, she said.

The cost for electricity varies with the time of year for Mississippi Power customers. The base rate is higher from June through September, according to the company’s website, because it costs more to produce energy when the demand is higher. Winter pricing from December through March is the lowest. The summer cost is 6.521 cents per kWh for the first 650 kWh throughout the year. For the next 350 kWh it’s 8.628 cents in July and 4.539 cents in January.

How to save money

Many South Mississippi homes don’t have the insulation and other energy-saving features found in colder climates, but Freeman said Singing River and other power companies have programs to help customers keep their houses warmer and their electric bills lower.

Singing River’s Smart Hub app is available free for for all mobile devices and lets customers check their power usage. Some of that information is available on bills, but she said, “It's much more detailed on the app.” Singing River also offers a free energy audit, when an energy specialist walks through the home and makes suggestions on insulation, weather stripping, caulking and other measures, she said.

Coast Electric also has web tools “and a staff of energy efficiency experts that are available to help members understand their electric use and what programs may help them save,” said Lollar. A Time of Use rate allows members to save based on reducing energy use during peak hours.

Mississippi Power has a variety of rebates for installing a more efficient heat pump or a smart thermostat. “Just as we do during storm season, our company is ready to assist our customers in these extreme weather conditions,” Shepard said.

How to cut winter electric bill in winter

▪ Set the temperature at 68 degrees and put on a sweater

▪ Turn back the thermostat for eight hours while away from home or at night to save about 10 percent a year

▪ Open curtains on south-facing windows during the day and close them at night

▪ Wrap exposed pipes and water heaters in unheated spaces

▪ Keep the fireplace damper closed when not in use

▪ Caulk or weather strip around doors and windows

▪ Maintain heating systems

▪ Turn down the water heater temperature to 120 degrees. Water heaters can account for 14-25 percent of energy consumed

Coast Electric, Mississippi Power, Singing River Electric

Help available

Power company representatives encourage people to contact them if they need more time to pay their bill or find out how to apply for assistance to help pay the cost:

Coast Electric: http://coastepa.com/energy-assistance-2/ or 877-769-2372

Mississippi Power: mississippipower.com/my-home/my-bill/

payment-assistance or 800-532-1502

Singing River: singingriver.com or 228-497-1313

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