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THURSDAY, MARCH 1, 2007
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DU sees spike in electric, gas use
Early winter cold may drive up bills

By Chris Paschenko
chris@decaturdaily.com · 340-2442

Freezing weather during the past two months could mean higher utility bills for some Decatur residents.

Outside thermometers dipped to freezing or below on 16 days in January and 18 days in February, but Decatur Utilities Manager Kem Carr said lower energy rates should offset some of the cost of keeping cozy.

The natural gas rate for DU customers is down 35 percent from a year ago, but the electric rate is down only slightly, Carr said.

Carr randomly surveyed a dozen DU electric and natural gas accounts Wednesday that reflect usage from the middle of January to the middle of February. He said those accounts are a good snapshot of customer usage citywide.

“Most of the higher bills were received based on usage dates from the middle of January to the middle of February,” Carr said. “There was about 25 percent increase usage of electricity, which correlated into a 25-percent increase in electric bills.”

Usage of natural gas went up 40 percent, but it was largely offset by a cost decrease.

Customers who spent $100 on electricity last month would have seen a $125 charge on their most recent bill, Carr said.

The same $100 spent last month on natural gas would result in a $115 bill this month, Carr said.

Customers whose bills begin and end on the first of the month will see less of a usage spike because the bulk of the colder weather came during the middle of January and middle of February.

Usage usually declines after March, Carr said.

“We saw the last couple of weeks of February warm up,” Carr said. “Use on natural gas and electric will be going down from the middle of February to the middle of March.”

Although electric customers saw their bills rise 25 percent, Carr said, heating with electricity remains more cost efficient than heating with natural gas.

“It’s still a lot less expensive to heat with a heat pump,” he said. “You have to get a lot lower gas commodity price to be competitive with electric heat pumps.”

Heat pumps may not have the warming effect all residents want when the weather drops into the teens.

“Some people like to keep their house in the middle 70s,” Carr said. “It’s hard for heat pumps to keep it in that temperature range.”

A dual gas/electric heating combination, such as gas logs used sparingly with a heat pump, would be better suited for customers who like it really warm, he said.

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