published Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Area heating bills shocking customers

As the owner of Chattanooga Massage & Bodyworks, Dan Brownell helps other people to relax and feel comfortable.

But when he got his electricity bill this month for his 600-square-foot shop, the Red Bank businessman was anything but relaxed.

"My jaw dropped when I saw EPB said I owed $380," Brownell said. "That's double what I expected."

After installing a new heating and air-conditioning unit last spring and closely watching the thermostat to cut energy use this month, Brownell thought he could hold the line against Old Man Winter.

"But this is the coldest winter I remember here, and it really took a hit to my bottom line," he said.

Last week's snowfall may now be melted, but the power bills arriving in mailboxes this month are giving many consumers the winter chills.

With TVA fuel costs up and temperatures in December and January down from year-ago levels, some households and small businesses are getting record-high power bills this month.

"I nearly passed out when I opened my bill in December and they said I owed more than $200 and this month's bill is over $300," said Kirstie Evans, a single mother of two boys who works two jobs to help pay her bills. "I've had to cut down on groceries and every other expense just to pay my light bill."

January's power bill for her two-bedroom apartment in North Chattanooga is nearly as much as her monthly rent.

HEATING TIPS

• Keep your thermostat set at 68 degrees. Your heating costs increase by about 3 percent for every degree above that.

• Install a programmable thermostat.

• Make sure doors and windows are properly sealed with caulk or weather stripping. Also make sure you have adequate insulation in your attic, where much of the warm air can escape.

• You can level your power bill throughout the year under a year-round billing program, or ask for repayment assistance from EPB, by calling 648-1372.

• More help is available at www.energyright.com.

Sources: National Weather Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, EPB, United Way of Greater Chattanooga

"That's just too high," she said.

The Tennessee Valley Authority boosted what it charges for its electricity by nearly 23 percent from January 2010 until this month because of increases in the utility's monthly fuel-cost adjustments. Although still below the peak reached in October 2008, fuel costs have risen steadily as the economy has improved over the past year, TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said.

While rates are higher, colder weather also is pushing up consumption. EPB said overall use of electricity in Chattanooga during December was 11 percent higher than a year ago, even with little or no increase in major industrial and commercial consumption.

The number of heating degree days in December — a measure of how much extra heat is needed to offset colder temperatures — was up nearly 22 percent last month over the same period a year ago, EPB spokeswoman Lacie Newton said.

The combination of higher rates and lower temperatures is squeezing many recession-wary consumers, according to EPB and local relief agencies.

Chattanooga's EPB doesn't cut off power to any homes or apartments when the temperature is below freezing. But EPB still requires customers to pay for the electricity they use. Newton said a growing number of customers is getting on payment plans because they can't afford to pay all of their monthly power bill on time.

Requests for payment extensions from EPB rose by 21.6 percent over the past year, while the number of people seeking assistance from the United Way of Greater Chattanooga to pay their electricity bills last year was up 24 over the previous year, officials said.

Rebecca Whelchel, executive director for Metropolitan Ministries in Chattanooga, said electricity bills are the biggest and most expensive problems for those seeking help from her relief agency.

"People try to pay for their shelter first and then try to buy food or medicine, so a lot of times there is not enough left to pay the power bill," she said. "The bills are often-times so large that there is no way that they can even begin to pay them."

Whelchel said the demand for assistance this winter far outstrips the money available.

"We're all being overwhelmed this winter by these bills, and it's harder to ask to donors to pay someone's electricity bill to EPB compared with buying them food or giving them medicine," she said.

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hcirehttae said...

A couple of years ago, I got a ridiculously large bill from EPB in March, three times what any electric bill had been at my house, even in the dead of winter or heat of summer. EPB could not account for it; I could not account for it. The billing was (to my mind) obviously a mistake. It added about 10% to my total billing that year. EPB coerced me to pay it anyway. I still resent that... obviously.

Since then, to my surprise, I've heard stories like mine from several people. It's as if EPB decided they can get away with doing that exactly one time to each of its customers, and no one will ever connect the dots.

Do I sound paranoid? I'm not really. Just questioning why EPB can make whatever rules, rates, and decisions they want with little accountability and no transparency.

And as long as I'm ranting already, have you been to their downtown office -- the vast, dehumanizing fortress of solitude -- and seen one clerk dealing with the waiting public, one bean at a time, while many other "workers" stare blankly at computer screens for hours? Ever wonder what they're looking at?

January 19, 2011 at 10:30 a.m.
sunnydelight said...

Chattanooga has one of the cheapest electricity rates in the country. I know this is not a popular opinion but it is a fact. Sometimes we have temerature extremes or one months bill may have as many as 3 more days on that billing period than the last one . All this factors in to that bill.

January 19, 2011 at 11:07 a.m.
sunshiney1 said...

I live in Cleveland and my electric bill was over $400. I was blown away! I expected an increase from the average $180-200 I normally pay, but that was substantially more.

January 19, 2011 at 4:09 p.m.

Hey folks... if you are so worried about spikes then call EPB and ask about monthly averaging of your bill in order to pay an averaged amount every month.

And get a gas furnace, as well.

January 19, 2011 at 4:59 p.m.

we had a $700 bill in Benton this month! Needless to say, we are moving!!!!

January 19, 2011 at 7:44 p.m.
dave said...

The funny thing is that most of the folks in Chattanooga don't know that the City and Country Government owns EPB (formerly known as the Electric Power Board of the City of Chattanooga.) Their rates are just another form of taxation and the whole business should be examined thoroughly by an outside, unaffiliated auditor who would examine if the PEOPLE are getting their moneys worth. Quite frankly when I visit the new, fine polished marble building and hand over my hard won cash, I resent it as well! Bull____ if I am going on their let us charge you what we want over twelve month plan....that is for suckers. the best plan is to get the Heck out of "dodge".

January 19, 2011 at 8 p.m.
richadamrich said...

dave. the funny thing about your post is that it is wrong. the power board is part of the city only, not the county.

January 19, 2011 at 9:45 p.m.
safeguard0720 said...

Our November electric bill was $140, which is around average. We got out bill for the past month and it was $260. We called EPB and they were trying to blame the weather and asked what our thermostat was set on. I explained it was set on 74, but we had gas. They then asked if we had Christmas Lights on our home, and I told them we had no Christmas lights, just a pre lit 7' Christmas Tree and were out of town for nearly a week during Christmas. 3 days later we had our meter "reread" and were billed $117.

January 19, 2011 at 11:18 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

Does anyone know if the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is still available? LIHEAP will pay up to $600 of your bill if you qualify and they have the funding. You sign up thru the Chattanooga Human Services organization. You can also sign up to get your home weatherized and help lower those bills.

January 19, 2011 at 11:29 p.m.
Carl1 said...

I'm wondering how much are they charging you guys per KWH? Since the city owns the epb i wouldn't it put it past them to using it as a way to back door tax us?

January 20, 2011 at 5:36 p.m.
Brat said...

My bill for this past month was over $700.00. It has never been over $300.00 in my entire life of paying bills at anywhere I have ever lived in the past 30 years. EPB has a monopoly on electricity, but we all still need to file complaints with them, TVA, Dept. of Energy, and every government agency that regulates them. Does anyone know all of the government agencies that we can file complaints to? Has anyone started a petition yet? How many of you just had the new digital meters installed that you can't read the kilowatts per minute or second like you could on the meters with the dial? This is a major problem! NOW you can't even tell what is using the most electricity in your home!!!

January 21, 2011 at 4:03 p.m.
Brat said...

E.P.B. is owned by the City Of Chattanooga . Let Your Voice Be Heard. Alert News Media, Newspapers and TV. File A Petition. File A Complaint. E.P.B. is a member of the Chamber Of Commerce and the BBB . Also File Complaints To : T.V.A. Public Utilities Commission . Tennessee Regulatory Authority . F.E.R.C. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission . D.O.E. United States Dept. Of Energy . The DOE is serious about people trying to save on energy.

The Major Complaints Are: Poor Customer Service, They do not answer their phones, They do not respond back after complaints, High Bills, Rate Increases, Meters, Especially the New Digital Meters that customers can not read the usage by the seconds. How can you tell what is using that electricity now when you turn off the main breakers because the new digital meters won't show you a decrease/increase by the minute or second like you could see with that dial? MAYBE THEY DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW! PLEASE PEOPLE, LET'S DO SOMETHING NOW!

January 21, 2011 at 5:47 p.m.
Carl1 said...

I guess we see they figured out a way to pay for all that fiber-optic cable network they spent millions on. And it's still so over priced most people wont buy it. The plan all along was to bend us over during the winter to re coop their investment. EPB just come and put a gun in our face and take it like most crooks would.

January 21, 2011 at 9:23 p.m.
Siggyboo said...

Here is the thing, my family is from Canada, we are used to below zero temperatures for weeks on end. I have never had a bill as high as mine was for december #1 and #2 we turned off our electric heat and used our propane fireplaces almost exclusively during that time, exceptions were the few days we were out of the house. Since we work from home I know that my electric bill should have gone down if anything and it was over double. Something is rotten in denmark...but when you call to ask, they blame it on the 'cold' Im sorry, but we havent had cold yet. When it's 50 below zero we can talk about a cold snap.

January 25, 2011 at 2:15 a.m.
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