Arctic Blast Brings High Electric Bills

As members of REC receive their electric bills over the next several weeks, many will notice the bill is higher than normal. “Did the electricity rate go up or is my meter turning too fast,” you might ask. The answer to both questions is no. Instead, you are likely seeing how extreme cold temperatures affect electricity use and ultimately the electric bill.

“On February 20, a new all-time high peak for winter energy use was set in Virginia as a result of record-breaking low temperatures and wind chills,” said Gary Schwartz, REC’s director of technology. “But this really isn’t something to celebrate because an increase in electricity use results in higher than normal electric bills for our members.”

Throughout the month of February there were many extremely cold days starting at or below 0 degrees in some parts of REC’s service territory. When temperatures drop so low, it causes heating systems and water heaters to work harder to sustain heat. In addition, many people resort to using stand-alone space heaters for supplemental heat, which also increases energy use.

Paul Gillespie, an energy management advisor with REC, said, “Members with electric heat or a heat pump with electric heat back-up will see a significant increase in energy use because of cold temperatures. Heating and cooling costs are usually the largest part of your electric bill and account for up to two-thirds of your energy use.

When temperatures drop electric heating systems use more energy in order to sustain the temperature in your home. Because they all use electric fans to circulate heated air, even people with heating systems that use natural gas, propane, or oil likely used more electricity than normal.”

The same can also be true for water heaters located in unconditioned spaces such as a garage or basement. Gillespie said, “If a water heater is located in a space that is really cold it has to run longer in order to sustain the temperature of the water. This increase in energy use causes an increase in energy bills as well.”

As temperatures drop how much electricity is being used may be the last thing people think of as they try to stay warm. Sometimes people will utilize a stand-alone space heater. Space heaters utilize approximately 1500 watts or 1.5 kilowatts. If that space heater ran consistently for 12 hours daily it adds roughly $2.25 per day or about $67.50 or more for the month.

Energy Use Graphic

Space Heater Calculator

In 2013, REC introduced to all of its members. With this online tool, members can create an account giving them access to their daily energy use information, the high and low temperatures for the day, and they can also set alerts to receive notifications when energy use is above their desired set point.

Kris Sieber, REC’s director of member services said, “Taking advantage of the free tool is a great way for our members to stay informed about their energy use. This information takes the surprise out of the monthly electric bill, and also helps identify potential issues or habits that can be adjusted to decrease in energy use. We encourage all members to register for this free service.”

“We seek to provide information to our members on the different ways they can reduce their energy use. We encourage them to try these tips in order to save money,” added Gillespie. “While we can’t control the weather, we can offer the tools and information our members need to stay informed about energy efficiency and their energy use.”