Published 12:58 am Friday, February 14, 2014

This chart represents actual power consumption in January by a CEC customer. The green bars represent power use; the red line charts the temperature. As the red line (temperature) goes down, the green bars (power use) go up.

This chart represents actual power consumption in January by a CEC customer. The green bars represent power use; the red line charts the temperature. As the red line (temperature) goes down, the green bars (power use) go up.

Customers see spikes after unusually cold month

Any customer of Covington Electric Cooperative who wonders why his or her electric bill was high in January can easily see why, general manager Ed Short said.

“Our customers who log on to can see how many kilowatt hours they used on any day, and what the temperature was that day,” Short said. “This gives them a day-to-day running total of how much they’ve used.”

And in January, it was a lot. Because in Covington County in January, there were 22 days in which the temperature dipped below 40; 16 days in which the high was lower than 40; and 11 days in which the low was lower than 20.


Compare that to the month of December, when there were only eight days in which the low was below 40 and five days with the high was lower than 60, and it’s easy to see how customers consumed more electricity, Short said.

Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson, who manages the city’s utilities, pointed out that in January there also were two periods of at least 55-hours straight in which the temperature didn’t get higher than freezing.

That, coupled with the fact that most people heat their homes with heat pumps, meant lots of consumption.

“We have a lot of people in our community, and in our part of the world that use heat pumps in their homes,” Johnson said.

“A heat pump can only raise the indoor temperature 35 degrees above the outside temperature,” he explained. “If the outside temperature is 40 degrees, you can raise your inside temperature to 75 degrees and it’s comfortable and efficient.

“If it’s 20 degrees, it will only raise the temperature to 55 degrees. To get the other 20 degrees of heat that most people want, the heat pump has to flip over to strip heating, which is resistance heating. It uses a lot of electricity.”

The energy consumed when a heat pump switches to supplemental, or strip heating, is comparable to turning an oven on to heat your house, both men agreed.

And co-ops and municipalities don’t get that energy for free. They purchase it from a generator – in this case, PowerSouth, and deliver it on their own grids for resale.

Critics have said that utilities raised their rates during the recent inclement weather.

But CEC’s rates have been the same since 2009, Short said, and Andalusia Utilities last raised rates in May of 2013.

“The reason their power bill went up was because they used more power,” Short said.

The increase in consumption seemed sharper, he pointed out, because winter was relatively mild in 2013, as was summer. There were no sharp spikes in consumption until January of this year.

Both the cooperative and municipal system did what they could to manage consumption and avoid power outages, which sometimes happens when the load increases. Andalusia reported no outages, and CEC had fewer than 10.

But that’s also because the utilities work year-round to keep the systems in good shape.

“We had a couple of transformers that burned up because of the load,” Short said. “It happens over time. But because of all the money we’ve invested in maintaining system and cutting right-of-ways, we were in good shape.”

But, he pointed out, the costs of investing in systems is included in each power bill.

“Some of that bill goes to pay for the system we talked about to keep it in condition where it will perform in that type weather,” Johnson said.

“People have forgotten that in Opal or our last snow storm, some people were out of power for like a week,” Short said.

Johnson said, “We didn’t go out this time but a lot of people did. That’s not to say we won’t go out in the future. But we work very hard to avoid that.”

Even in cold weather, there are things people can do to lower their consumption.

Of CEC’s customers, only 757 use the free service to track their consumption.

“What happens, is people say, ‘to heck with it, I’m cold.’ ” Short said. “If they looked at that on a day-to-day basis, they might put on a sweatshirt.”

Johnson said while Andalusia customers can’t access that information online yet, personnel in the utilities department can provide information that shows daily consumption.

In addition, free energy audits are available to help customers determine ways to lower their energy costs.