Officials talk energy bills at Hazard workshop
by Cris Ritchie Editor
HAZARD About 50 people gathered inside the Perry County Courthouse Thursday to meet with representatives of Kentucky Power and the Public Service Commission (PSC) to address issues with their higher-than-normal power bills this winter.
It was in January when many Perry County residents were surprised when they opened their statements and were greeted with power bills that in some cases doubled what they said were normal for the winter months.
Their surprise turned to frustration, and some state legislators took notice as well. A hearing was held in a state House committee, asking the PSC and Kentucky Power to explain the increase in power bills.
Thats exactly what they did again Thursday evening in Hazard.
Andrew Melnykovych is the spokesperson for the PSC, and reiterated something hes been saying for the past few weeks, that this winters weather was simply colder than normal and created a spike in energy usage, which in turn can account for the increases Kentucky Power customers saw on their January statements.
There was a 14 percent rate increase that took effect in June 2010, but Melnykovych said that increase by itself wouldnt account for such a spike in power bills. Abnormally cold weather, however, would.
The biggest driver of the size of your bill, whether its electric or gas, particularly if youre heating with electric ... the biggest driver is going to be temperature, he explained.
According to data gleaned from the Jackson weather station, Melnykovych said November 2010 was 9 percent warmer than normal, while December was 37 percent colder than normal. Those statements received in January reflected customers energy usage in December.
We had an unusually cold December all across Kentucky, but this part of the state (eastern Kentucky) was hit the hardest, he continued. And thats why a lot of people saw their electric bills jump so dramatically.
There are ways to reduce the impact of utility bills on household budgets. Considering that 42 percent of average home energy spending is accounted for by heating and cooling, weatherization can play a major role in the reduction of utility costs. Turning down the thermostat a few degrees also helps.
If you go from 72 degrees to 68 degrees, you can save 15 percent or more on your heating bills, Melnykovych said.
Replacing incandescent lights with energy efficient light bulbs, like compact fluorescent or LED bulbs, can cut down on usage as well as switching to more energy efficient appliances.
An energy audit, which Kentucky Power will conduct free of charge for its customers, will identify issues with heat loss or other factors that can lead to higher energy usage.
There is also a program that Kentucky Power customers can sign up for that utilizes off-peak hours, or when energy usage is the least expensive. According to AEP officials present at last weeks meeting, in order to utilize the off-peak hours, customers need to contact Kentucky Power and have a time-of-day meter installed, but they also noted that those hours are from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Friday, and increased usage of on-peak hours could actually increase cost.
Jeff Derouen, executive director of the Public Service Commission, said the biggest factor of a continually lower energy bill rests with weatherization. He called it the low hanging fruit of energy cost reduction because in some cases its an easy fix.
Melnykovych added that there is federal money available for low income households to help replace old HVAC units, make homes more energy efficient, or complete other upgrades to help with long term improvements. In Perry County, LKLP oversees just such a weatherization program.
The catch is that the federal money runs out in a year, Melnykovych continued, so anyone who thinks they may qualify for this program needs to call LKLP as soon as possible.
In the meantime, he noted, anyone who has questions about their bill needs to begin by calling Kentucky Power Company, and if they are unable to reach a resolution by contacting the company, call the Public Service Commission at 502-564-3940.
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