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Heat wave drives up utility bills
Decatur Utilities reports
increase in electricity use

By Catherine Godbey 340-2441

The record temperatures may be gone, but area residents are still feeling the heat.

The tormenting temperatures and drought conditions this summer affected river water levels, crop production and local utility bills.

To escape the torture of the record-setting 14 days of 100-degree temperatures in August, many Tennessee Valley residents looked to their home cooling systems for relief. As residents cooled down, their utility bills heated up.

"We're still processing meters, but there's definitely an increase in electricity use from the summer heat," Decatur Utilities Electric Manager Dan Gibbs said.

Record $7.4 million TVA payment

DU set a record payment amount of $7.4 million to the Tennessee Valley Authority in July for the energy customers expended, but a record was not set for the number of kilowatt-hours used. Gibbs attributes the record amount to an increase in TVA electricity rates.

Along with the extreme temperatures, other elements, such as the size of a house, the insulation level and the number of children living in the household contribute to the amount of electricity consumed. Children who run in and out of the house let cooler air exit and warmer outside air enter, Gibbs explained.

Local utilities are in the process of reading meters, and warn customers to expect higher-than-average electricity consumption.

Bill Vaughn, with Athens Utilities Customer Service Department, said the effect of the heat on a customer's August bill depends on what day the company reads the meter.

"The bills are up due to the extremely hot weather," Vaughn said. "How expensive they are depends on when the customer is billed and how many three-digit days are included on the bill."

According to Ferrell Vest, general manager of Hartselle Utilities, customers relied heavily on their electricity to survive the heat. Vest received TVA's official numbers for August, which indicated a 12.27 percent increase in the amount of energy used compared to July.

In examining its numbers from August, Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Corp. experienced an identical impact on electricity usage from the heat as HU. From July to August, the energy consumption of Joe Wheeler's customers increased by 10 million kilowatt-hours, Communications Specialist Mandy Phillips said.

Some North Alabama residents received relief from their electricity use when the school year started in early August. With children away from the household, daytime electricity usage decreased.

To lower household energy usage, which decreases the electricity bill, TVA suggests raising the temperature on thermostats, keeping curtains closed during the day and using the microwave in lieu of the stove or oven.

Margaret Benford, a resident of Decatur, followed TVA's suggestions and kept her curtains drawn and doors closed.

"It (the bill) was slightly higher than usual, but I tried to do those little things to help keep my home cool and save money," Benford said.

Decatur resident Quinnon Warren also said his bill rose a "little."

"We tried to keep the lights off for most of the day and we kept the thermostat higher," he said.

Ramifications of the summer's extreme weather conditions will not end with the passing of Labor Day. Taking effect Oct. 1, a fuel cost adjustment approved by TVA will increase the cost of electricity .43 cents per kilowatt-hour. TVA estimates the adjustment, which affects DU, Joe Wheeler Electric, AU and HU, will increase monthly utility bills in the range of $3 to $6.

TVA spokesman John Moulton said the drought conditions depleted TVA's hydropower by 40 percent. Across the Tennessee Valley, reservoirs are measuring at below-average levels.

"The drought is the key reason for the increase," Moulton said. "The increase allows us to recover the higher-than-anticipated purchase power cost during the drought ... it also reflects the expected continued impacts of the drought on hydro generation through the fall."

TVA reviews fuel costs quarterly to align the budgeted cost of fuel with the actual costs. The fuel-cost adjustment beginning Oct. 1 will remain in effect until Dec. 31 and then TVA will re-examine the increase.

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