Electricity rates in the Tennessee Valley will rise again in March, boosting the price of power to nearly 20 percent above the level of a year ago as many consumers still struggle to cope with this year's colder winter temperatures.
The Tennessee Valley Authority announced Friday that its monthly fuel cost adjustment will increase in March by 2.5 percent, adding another $2.55 to the average monthly residential light bill in Chattanooga, according to EPB Chief Financial Officer Greg Eaves.
Despite fuel cost reductions in three of the past four months, the latest increase combined with fuel cost increases earlier in 2010 will boost the price of the typical EPB residential bill next month by $19.40 above the level in March 2009, assuming similar weather.
But so far this winter, temperatures have been below normal in December, January and February, boosting winter heating bills even higher for many consumers.
"It's been a very active winter in the Southeast with a lot of low-pressure systems moving through the area pulling a lot of cold, arctic air into the region," said Derek Eisentrout, a meteorological technician with the National Weather Service bureau in Morristown, Tenn. "It's been an unusually cold winter, although we should begin to see some relief in the next few days."
one ratepayer's distress
By the numbers
* 2.5 percent -- March increase in TVA's fuel cost adjustment
* $2.55 -- Increase in typical monthly EPB residential electricity bill in March from fuel cost increase
* 19.2 percent -- Increase in TVA wholesale price of power in March 2010 compared with a year ago
Such relief can't come soon enough for Nicolas Coffelt, a 32-year-old homeowner who was at EPB's office Friday paying on a $756 power bill for the past couple of months.
"These electric bills are killing me already and I can't understand why they might go even higher," he said. "I have four kids, and with my wife injured right now, it's really tough. I've never had an electric bill near this high."
In its announcement of the March hike in power prices, TVA blamed next month's additional increase in the fuel cost adjustment to the planned outage at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant. With one of the Browns Ferry units idle, TVA will have to spend at least $1 million more a day to replace that power with other electricity bought on the market or generated with more expensive fuel.
"Nuclear power is less expensive to produce than some of our other resources like coal and natural gas, which means we'll have to produce or buy more expensive power next month," TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said.
With colder weather and higher rates, winter heating bills are squeezing more consumers, according to local relief agencies.
The social service office at the Salvation Army of Chattanooga has received requests for utility payment assistance from more than 300 Chattanoogans in just the past 20 days, according to the agency's marketing director, Kimberly George.
"Utility bills have just skyrocketed because of the cold weather and unfortunately with our budget we can only help about 10 percent of those people," George said. "It's hard to realize, but in Chattanooga some of our neighbors are having to decide whether to pay the electric bill and keep the heat on or buy food to feed my children."
Contact Dave Flessner at 423-757-6340 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/chattreporter.