Big electric bills have customers seeing red

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 19, 2003

When Major Cox, of Decatur Township, got his electric bills last month and this month, there was something different about them: the size. Cox said normally his bill is anywhere from $80- $95 each month. But this month and last, those bills are double what they used to be.

"It was almost $300 this month," Cox said. "That's outrageous. It's not fair."

Lawrence County Commission President George Patterson said he has gotten more than 30 phone calls from angry Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative customers who want to know why these bills are so high. Patterson said he can sympathize- he is also a BRE customer and his bill this month showed a $109 increase.

Email newsletter signup

"I want them to lay out a reason for this. Over the years I haven't had much of a quarrel with Buckeye Rural but now I do,"Patterson said.

The commission Thursday agreed to send BRE a letter, asking executives to explain what is causing the large increase.

Patterson said he is concerned about customers who are on fixed incomes and how they will be able to pay their bills with such a steep increase. Cox is such a customer.

"There's no way I can continue to pay this," Cox said.

Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative Customer Service Representative Steve Oden said the reason the bills are bigger is that in January, BRE hit a new peak demand for the electricity it purchases from Buckeye Generation and Transmission Co.. The new peak in demand lasted one hour, but its effects will be felt for months to come: that peak cost BRE more than $1 million more this year for its electricity purchase. The $1 million was passed along to the consumer in the form of an increase to the consumer's wholesale power cost adjustment.

"That peak lasted one hour of one day of one month, but under our agreement with Buckeye Power, they can and are charging us more than $1 million for this," Oden said. "We don't like it and we know our customers don't like it. It's an unfair thing that an aberration occurred and we would be charged for the rest of the year. We're sympathetic. We're power customers, too."

Oden said the peak took place during a cold snap when customers were probably turning up their furnaces to stay warm. Since 95 percent of BRE's 18,500 customers are residential, executives could not go to a big industrial or commercial power user and ask them to cut back on their usage to avoid hitting a new peak.

"We are in the process of trying to convince folks that is is not fair for co-op members to suffer like this," Oden said.

Patterson said he wonders what it would take for BRE customers to switch utility companies to Ohio Power, or another entity.