Winter cold snaps leading to higher gas, electric bills

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As customers open their gas and electric bills this month, they might be caught off guard by the higher bill.

Utility companies are reminding customers this winter season has brought several arctic blasts to Central Texas which dropped temperatures into the teens in January–the coldest air to hit the area in several years. According to ERCOT, on Wednesday, Jan. 17 between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., Texans used the most energy ever in the state at 65,731 MW.

Bluebonnet Electric says the prolonged temperatures at or below freezing had a direct impact on how much customers used last month

“We constantly monitor how much energy our members are using. When we see temperatures that low for that long, we always see a spike in the amount of energy homes use and an increase in electric bills,” said Matt Bentke, Bluebonnet’s general manager in a press release.

Winter 17/18 Temperatures

  • Jan. 1: Low was 25°
  • Jan. 1-2: Temperatures never climbed above freezing
  • Since Dec. 1, we’ve seen 27 days where morning lows were below 40°

The utility company says its customers used on average 334 kilowatt hours more electricity this January compared to January 2017. Most customers are seeing a 21 percent increase in their bills.

Homes that use natural gas or propane will see an increase in their bill as well. A spokesperson for Texas Gas says its customers will see an uptick in their bills because of the increased usage this winter. The company says the average residential usage was 47 percent higher this January than last.

A spokesperson for Atmos Energy echoes the same message. “Due to record-setting temperatures across Texas the past few weeks, Atmos Energy customers have seen an increase in their natural gas consumption. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, on New Year’s Day more natural gas was consumed than any other day in history,” said Randy Hartford with Atmos Energy.

North Austin homeowner Paul Doyle says he keeps his thermostat at 67 degrees and he’s only turned up the heat a few degrees this winter, even when it was freezing outside. “We didn’t really run it any more than normal,” said Doyle.

So Doyle wants to know why his natural gas bill doubled in January — the highest he’s seen it in six years. His bill shows Doyle’s consumption more than quadrupled. “That’s an awful lot, [we asked ourselves] is our house leaking? We posted on Nextdoor, a lot of people gave comments saying theirs was two, three, maybe four times as much,” explains Doyle.

Atmos Energy says sometimes they will estimate usage for a household when employees are training during low-usage months. He says the company will get an estimate by taking an average for the last 12 months. If your bill says “estimated,” you can call Atmos and they may have you take pictures of your meter reading to send them, and adjust your bill accordingly.

Some customers living in Lago Vista that have Alliant Gas say their recent bill was as high as $600 — some even more. A spokesperson for Alliant says some people with high bills live in a new subdivision and they’re they’re experiencing their first colder than usual winter since moving in.

Alliant says there were gas line breaks in another new subdivision, but that would not affect a customer’s bill.

KXAN asked if rate increases played a role in some of the higher bills. Atmos Energy raised rates slightly in June, bumping bills up by about $2 per month on average. Texas Gas Service customers saw an even smaller change, with an average increase of less than $1.50 per month.

Atmos Energy customers who would like to discuss their bill should call 1-888-286-6700. If you have an emergency gas leak you can call Atmos at 1-866-322-8667.

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