Cold January caused electricity bills to rise — but not as much as you might think

Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - 11:56
  • Power lines near the Justine Parks electrical substation in Chugiak. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

When electric bills came due this month, a lot of people were in for a shock.

“I’ve certainly noticed some chatter about it,” said Matanuska Electric Asssociation Public Relations Manager Jennifer Castro on Tuesday.

But MEA’s rates didn’t go up. In fact, Castro said there was a slight decrease in rates this quarter. Instead, Mother Nature turned the thermostat outside way down — which Castro said sparked an increase in people’s usage.

“The biggest consumers of energy are heat and light, whare the two things we’ve been using lots of this past month,” Castro said.

Castro said some people were confused because the cooperative’s “base” rate did increase by 1.4% this quarter. However, the Cost of Power Adjustment (COPA) rate — which fluctuates based on fuel costs — decreased by 6.2%, resulting in a net decrease of about $1.83 per month for an average member in an average month.

But January wasn’t average. Temperatures in the Anchorage area were historically cold, with the city recording its 8th coldest January and 14th coldest month on record, according to the National Weather Service. The area averaged 11 degrees below normal for the month, which resulted in a lot of people using a lot of extra power to heat their homes.

Areawide, Castro said MEA didn’t actually see a huge spike in overal electricity usage. The cooperative saw an 8.5% jump from December, but last year’s usage also increased about 8.2% from December to January.

“So not a significant difference or change from what’s typical that time of year,” she wrote in an email.

However, Castro said some electric sources of heat can indeed be very energy intensive. Just one small, plug-in heater (like the kind people keep at their desks) running for eight hours a day, five days a week could easily cost $60 in a month in electricity, she said.

“Anything used to produce heat electrically consumes a lot of electricity,” she said.

Castro said there are some simple things people can do to decrease usage. Avoiding things like space heaters is a good idea, as are timers that keep your home cool when it’s not being occupied. Castro said MEA is also urging people to switch to LED light bulbs, which she said are much more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs and continue to get cheaper.

“They’re really affordable when you buy them in bulk,” she said.

Castro said people curious about how much power they’re using can check the cooperative’s “SmartHub” feature, which shows electricity usage on a daily basis. She also said MEA offers “budget billing,” a feature allows users to get a bill that’s based on their yearly average rather than exact monthly usage.

“That’s a good way if you want to pay a flat average,” she said.

The good news for folks is the frigid January weather doesn’t seem to have held into February; through the first 11 days of the month, temperatures were averaging almost 4 degrees above normal.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274.

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