The bitter cold that hit Mississippi during December and January is still causing problems, this time in the form of high utility bills. Some extended—and historic cold hit the state over that time. Mix in the usual added power use during the holidays: children home from school, holiday guests, extra cooking, and you have the perfect storm for high bills in the new year. The usual, and understandable, reaction is to blame the high bill on an increase in rates or even a meter error.
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley says that the real culprit is in fact almost always the weather, or more to the point, the increased power use the extreme temperatures cause. Presley’s office regulates rates for for-profit utilities in the State and also works as an advocate for rate payers, including on high bill issues. His office has seen an increase in those issues lately. “We are dealing with high bill issues across the Northern District and really across Mississippi. And while there may be a very few caused by another problem, the vast majority are because of the cold”, said Presley. “When things get as cold as they have been, it doesn’t matter how new or efficient your home or your heater is, it has to work a lot more to keep your home warm,” he added. The data bears him out. According to meteorological data, in the 4-County service territory between December 24 and January 24, temperatures on 22 of 32 days were below average, 11 of those nights were 20 degrees or colder and five days never got above freezing. And, he says, if your home is older or a mobile home, you are even more likely to see a higher bill. “Unfortunately, the older a home gets the less energy efficient it tends to be. Mobile homes, especially older ones, are even harder to heat economically,” he said.
So what can you do once you get a high bill? Presley says the first step is to contact your utility. They can usually provide you with information on what happened. They can typically work with you on payments. Community Action Agencies such as Prairie Opportunity Incorporated can help some low income customers with bill payments. “But if after that someone still feels their bill is too high, the can certainly contact the Commission at 1-800-637-7722. In North Mississippi, most of the electric distributors are regulated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. If you get your power from one of those distributors, you can contact TVA at 1-888-289-8409 and ask for some help in resolving the situation. If we or TVA find that there is reason to get involved, then we certainly will,” Presley said.
According to Presley, most local utilities, including 4-County, have programs to help. “The Public Service Commission has worked with utility companies to make sure they all offer some kind of energy efficiency programs for their customers. Many also offer payment options and other programs”, he said. Presley praises 4-County for their efforts those areas. “4-County has been a leader in the state and the region for a long time in providing options for their members,” he said.
4-County Manager of Marketing Jon Turner agrees. “Our job, each and every day is to provide reliable, affordable power to our members. A large part of that is making sure members have options in paying their bills, and tools to manage their power use. From our Prepay payment option to levelized billing to programs that can help members make energy efficient upgrades to their homes, and even our Extreme Energy Makeover project that allowed us to do free upgrades to 265 member’s homes, we really work to provide tools for all our members,” Turner said. “We also offer payment arrangements in most instances to help members when they have a large bill”, he added.
Turner encourages 4-County members to take advantage of technology as well. “You can set up an online account from your computer or smart device and check your daily usage and get alerts to help you track and manage your electric use. Visit our website at www.4county.org or call 1-800-431-1544 to find out more,” he said.