Soaring electricity bills to follow sweltering heat
The record-setting heat wave that is baking much of the nation is likely to have another painful effect next month: record electricity bills.
Electricity rates have been steadily rising for years and have jumped 12 percent in the past year. The average householder now pays 10.31 cents per kilowatt-hour, up from 9.2 cents last year. The average household uses 908 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month. But in July and August, the peak months, households tend to use 20 to 30 percent more than that. And when temperatures rise, usage soars. That means even thrifty householders should expect their July and August bills to come in 30 to 40 percent higher than average.
When the triple-digit heat wave started on the West Coast in mid-July, Americans drew down an all-time-record 96.3 gigawatt-hours for the week ending July 22, 1 percent more than the previous record, which happened to be set in the same week in 2005, reported the Edison Electric Institute. Many California residents reported, as a result, paying electric bills topping $500 a month.
The utility trade organization is now compiling the numbers for last week, but it looks as if it could have been another record-setter, says EEI spokesman Jim Owen. Last week, for the first time, he notes, utilities had drawn down their natural gas reserves during the summer. Normally, he says, utilities withdraw natural gas only during the winter, because natural gas is primarily used for heating homes. But when householders get their air conditioners going, the demand for electricity rises, forcing utilities to fire up their reserve generators, almost all of which run on natural gas.
This week could be even worse, since the high temperatures are now hitting the big population centers on the East Coast.
While temperatures will eventually cool down, the outlook for high summer utility bills appears to remain toasty for the near term. The federal government projects residential electricity rates will rise by an additional 3 to 4 percent next year. And a growing number of utilities are installing meters that will charge homeowners more for cooling during heat waves. California's Pacific Gas & Electric is about to add an extra charge of up to 99 cents to every customer's bill to pay for installation of new "smart" meters that will charge higher rates during times of peak demand. PG&E says that will save everybody money in the long run by encouraging homeowners to conserve when the demand is highest.