Neighbors across Alabama tell News 3 they came close to panicking when they opened their mailboxes this week. Inside, Alabama Power bills hundreds of dollars higher than normal.
More than a dozen viewers sent in copies of their bills to ask how their monthly payments could jump so high so quickly. One man tells News 3’s Mikhaela Singleton his usual $200 bill jumped close to $500 for the January billing period — almost as high as the rent on the trailer he lives in.
Another woman says her main concern is her elderly parents and others who live on a fixed income. News 3 took the drive up to Valley to ask an Alabama Power representative what might be driving bills so high.
“While it probably is unusual, yes, but we had some very frigid temperatures during that period of time,” says Alabama Power representative Linda Brannon. “Depending on how that customer was using their heating system and using their other electrical appliances, that would play largely into that usage.”
News 3 asked the viewers who submitted their bills to call the company to check their usage. All returned with the same answer — cold weather was reportedly to blame.
Still, they ask, how could bills be so much higher than this same time last year?
News 3’s Chief Meteorologist Bob Jeswald says it’s because the number of days spent in below freezing temperatures is also higher than average. He says since mid-December, there have been 22 days recorded below freezing — one such day with a low of 14 degrees.
Jeswald adds the area hasn’t had this high a number of below freezing temps in around five years.
Linda Brannon says there are also many things commonly overlooked in the home that can drive power usage up when temperatures are already so low.
“Well if it’s 20 degrees outside and your thermostat is set at around 70, then that system is working pretty hard to maintain that temperature in your home,” she says. “It would be wise not to use any other heavy users of electricity like a washer, a dryer, or a dishwasher.”
“Those types of appliances can pull a significant amount of energy. You don’t want to put any more strain on your system.”
Brannon adds if you do believe there may be something interfering with your system, contact the company as soon as possible to report the problem. Customers can also request an energy audit, where an inspector will come out to survey the home.
“We can come check it out, make sure your meter is giving an accurate reading, and also just give you some tips on how to make your home more energy efficient.”
Such power saving tips include:
- Regularly change out your home’s vent filters. Brannon says your Alabama Power bill comes every 30 days, so a good rule of thumb is to change the filters with each bill.
- Find places where heat may be leaking, like cracked windows or an open chimney. Seal these openings where you can, and where you can’t, a rolled up towel works just as well.
- Avoid using the fireplace in below freezing temperatures. Brannon says the heat generated by the fire will actually be less than the heat escaping through the chimney.
- Do not use space heaters to warm any area more than a small bedroom with the door shut. Otherwise, the heater’s warmth will be diluted over a large area, forcing it to work harder.
- Keep doors closed as much as possible and secure garage doors to prevent the unconditioned, outside air from entering the home.
Viewers also wanted to know how would they tell if there had been a rate change? Brannon says the company’s rates can’t change without a long, detailed process.
“We would have to apply for a price change to our Public Service Commission in Montgomery, and we would have to justify to them why we are asking for a price increase,” she tells News 3’s Mikhaela Singleton. “If after the presentations and deliberations and meetings there was a rate change, we would also send out press releases to all our customers to notify them.”
“Changing the rates is not something we’re even close to doing right now, and it’s the last thing we would want to do. When you think about it, we live here too.”
Brannon adds Alabama Power has options to eliminate putting a large financial burden on families.
One way, she says, is to sign up for Budget Billing, which averages your usage for the year and sends you a flat bill every month.
“You’ll always know what to expect,” she says. “You won’t get those low, low bills we love, but you won’t get those high, high bills either.”
Another way is to call Alabama Power customer service or use the online portal to set up a payment plan.
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