Co-op braces for heating bill increase

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 30, 2005

There is both good news and bad news for members of Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative.

This winter, customers will see higher heating costs due to extremely cold periods but will also see a reduction of the demand rate in next month's bills.

"Our consumers are going to see sizable bills for winter heating," BREC spokesman Steve Oden warned in a prepared statement. "This has been a much colder winter than last year, and we are not out of the woods yet. Our members who rely on electric heat will see kilowatt-hour consumption shoot up, and their bills will be higher."

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January was a month of single-digit temperatures on several dates, with high temperatures staying below freezing for almost a week. When similar conditions occurred in 2003, BREC set a new peak of record. Unfortunately, this record demand coincidentally occurred when BREC's wholesale power supplier set a system peak. The net result was higher wholesale electric costs passed on to consumers. The 67,908-kilowatt demand peak resulted in over $1 million in additional annual wholesale cost for BREC.

Oden said, though, the good news is that thanks to BREC consumers who responded to peak alert warnings, the co-op avoided setting a new demand record on Dec. 20, 2004, when the statewide system peaked again. "In fact," said Oden, "we were able to reduce our demand rate." This translates into a savings for consumers in the future "if we can get through the rest of the winter without peaking," Oden warned.

The new demand, based on the Dec. 20 peak event, is for 62,360 kilowatts. "The effect of this reduction will be to substantially lower the wholesale power cost adjustment [PCA] on consumer bills," Oden explained. "The PCA is where demand cost is recovered."

For a BREC consumer using 1,591-kilowatt hours of electricity, the December demand cost was $24.07. The January, 2005, demand cost shrinks to $11.40, a reduction of over half.

The actual amount of PCA reduction on individual bills will depend of consumption and rate class.

"The key is to stay in control of demand through energy conservation during potential peak periods," said Oden. "This is why we have done extensive newspaper and radio advertising of peak alert warnings."

BREC uses the Ironton Tribune and local radio stations to advertise warnings about possible peaks. "Peaks usually occur at two times of day: evenings when folks are coming home from work, cooking, bathing, and using appliances, or in the mornings when they are getting ready for work or school. These are the times of highest energy use," the BREC spokesman said. "A peak alert doesn't mean there is a shortage of electricity. It means that, unless we cut back some at these peak times, we could face increased demand cost."

REC members can help reduce demand with simple, inconvenient measures, according to Oden. "Turn the thermostat back a few degrees in the morning and evening. Set the temperature on your electric water heater a little lower. Turn off lights in rooms that aren't occupied. Weatherize your home with insulation, caulking, or plastic over windows. All these things can help," he said.

Some co-op members in Lawrence County are doing even more, said Oden.

"There are some phone banks going in communities. When folks hear or read about the peak alerts, they call relatives, neighbors, and fellow church members to pass the word. We certainly appreciate the assistance."

BREC serves over 20,000 electric accounts in a nine-county area of Southeastern Ohio.