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By Jess Macinko
News Editor 

PUD bills rise with falling temperatures

 


Many Goldendale residents have been feeling this winter in their wallets, particularly from higher than average utility bills. KPUD General Manager Jim Smith says many customers are paying twice as much or more than they would in an average winter.

But though rates did increase by three to four percent last year, that alone can’t account for doubled utility bills. Instead, he points to our long, cold winter. “When temperatures go down, usage goes up. And it’s stayed high longer [this winter].”

Based on preliminary numbers, Smith said the peak load for the utility increased from approximately 84 megawatts to 92: “about a 10 percent increase in the amount of power we were distributing to our customers at a specific time compared to any point in the past.”

Extra-cold weather not only increases the need for heat, but also undercuts some energy-efficient heating solutions. Many homes use heat pumps, which are more efficient than electric heat. But at low temperatures, the pumps can’t keep up. Then the less efficient (read: more expensive) electric heat kicks in to cover the difference. The result is that you pay more to maintain the same temperature. Over the course of a month, that extra expense creates a hefty bill.

Adding insult to injury, we will be paying for the winter even after it ends. Because KPUD bills for the previous month, customers are likely to see high charges even after the weather improves.

Myth-busting

Brandy Myers, KPUD’s customer service supervisor, says the average bill will simply be higher during winter. “If your primary heat source is electric, it will be higher. And if not, you are still using power to circulate heat, to heat water, and other uses.”

That said, Myers is aware of alternate theories about the high bills. One is that KPUD “guesses” the readings for meters it can’t get to.

“For some homes, especially those in rural areas, KPUD relies on self-readings”—meter readings provided by residents. If people forget to report readings, KPUD calculates bills based on readings from past years. Myers says because the estimates generally reflect average usage, those bills are actually lower than they should be for colder years like this one. If you have been paying estimated bills and then remember to provide your own reading, the adjusted bill can be a shock.

For water usage, KPUD basically must rely on estimates. Water meters are set in the ground—during heavy winters they are quickly buried under snow. Some can be read via radio, but the rest must be estimated—digging for them would risk damaging the meters and water lines.

Speaking to other power “myths,” Myers says KPUD’s lawsuit with the BIA hasn’t impacted rates at this point, and that there isn’t a separate rate for winter. KPUD does offer different classes of service, but most residents fall in the residential class and pay the same rate year-round. She also says neighbors’ bills aren’t the best gauge of what yours will be. Homes in the same area may differ widely in usage and efficiency.

Myers says one way to lower your bill is to be on the lookout for wasted energy. “If you feel cold air, if you hear something constantly working—a hot water heater, a heat pump—that’s a sign [of increased usage]. KPUD’s energy conservation specialist can help homeowners assess and plan energy efficiency improvements. Renters usually must rely on their landlords to take the initiative.

Finally, Myers says KPUD will work with people to spread out high bills and help them get caught up in a timely manner. For customers who need more help, she recommends energy assistance programs like KPUD’s Operation Warm Hearts, Washington Gorge Action Programs, and the American Legion for veterans.

Call for bill comparisons

Readers not be satisfied with the above explanations may believe the matter requires further scrutiny. Currently, The Sentinel is investigating one set of bills shared by a reader. If you think your bills don’t add up, we want to hear about it, especially if you have the records to show it. We will redact all identifying information.

 

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