Electricity bills are causing sticker shock, utility officials said, and another jolt is expected soon with this month’s charges.
Cold weather, prompting more energy use and higher demand for natural gas, has resulted in higher bills for electricity, utility officials said this week.
Rebecca Lloyd, vice president of Oneonta Block Co. in Oneonta, said several business representatives are stunned to see their most recent electricity bills up about 150 percent. The family-owned business operates several ventures, she said, without providing specifics on bill amounts.
“I don’t know that there is anything we can do about it,” Lloyd said. She expressed concern about the difference between commercial and residential rates and a need for the community to be informed about what is happening with energy resources.
“We have no energy policy in this country that is going to help alleviate the lack of supply,” Lloyd said.
In recent months, demand for electricity and natural gas, which is used to generate electricity as well as to provide heat, has been unprecedented because of extremely cold winter, according to the state Public Service Commission. While the PSC regulates and sets delivery rates, supply or commodity rates fluctuate based on supply and demand in the market.
“The unusually cold weather that has gripped the region has caused energy supply prices to surge in New York state and throughout the Northeast,” said Audrey Zibelman, PSC chairwoman, said in a Jan. 29 media release.
In early January, widespread, record-breaking cold weather had significant effects across almost all segments of the natural gas market, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration of the federal Department of Energy, and the frigid temperatures led to record highs in demand, storage withdrawals and prices.
Last month, in anticipation of a spike this month, the PSC authorized National Grid to provide its customers with a temporary credit to offset an unprecedented rise in electric supply costs. Without such action, some residential customers, using 600 kilowatt-hours per month, would have seen increases between 17.6 percent and 27.2 percent, the release said, and the PSC prediction for small commercial customers, using 1,500 kwh per month, were increases between 17.9 percent and 27.6 percent.
But all utility customers in New York state are facing higher-than-normal electricity bills because of the unusually cold weather, the release said. Zibelman urged utilities to notify eligible residential customers about 12-month budget payment plans and said customers who cannot pay their bills should contact their utility for payment options.
National Grid, a private electric and gas company owned by shareholders, provides electric service for parts of Schoharie, Otsego and Chenango counties but not in Delaware County, a utility official said.
New York State Electric and Gas Corp. serves Oneonta and the surrounding region. NYSEG offers a variable price for electricity supply, according to its website, or customers may purchase electricity supply from an energy services company. Delaware County Electric Cooperative Inc. is among other providers in the area.
NYSEG customers’ bills are higher as a result of higher commodity prices because of increased demand, Clayton Ellis, spokesman for the utility said, and some customers are using more energy because of the extremely cold weather.
Ellis said in Otsego, Delaware, Chenango and Schoharie counties, NYSEG has about 67,000 electricity-only customers, 1,500 natural gas-only customers and 11,000 electricity and natural gas customers.
On Jan. 7, New York set a winter record peak demand for electricity of 25,738 megawatts, beating the previous record winter peak demand of 25,541 megawatts set Dec. 20, 2004, according to the New York Independent System Operator.
Ellis said this winter has been about 5 degrees colder on average than the 10-year average temperatures between Nov. 1 through the end of February,
A typical residential customer using 600 kwh hours per month of electricity would have paid $74.16 in December for that quantity and $80.40 in February as a result of increased commodity prices, he said.
NYSEG purchases electricity and natural gas on the open market, officials said, and increases in market costs would affect all types of customers.
NYSEG bills consist of two primary components — delivery costs and commodity (electricity and natural gas supply) costs, Ellis said.
NYSEG’s delivery costs increased in September 2012 and will remain steady at least through 2014, Ellis said. Commodity costs are market-based, he said, and increased demand, as a result of the extremely cold weather, has driven up those prices.
About 20 percent of NYSEG customers take advantage of the 12-month budget billing service, said Ellis, who urged customers facing difficulty paying their bills to contact NYSEG at (888) 315-1755.
Mary Johnson, coordinator of the Home Energy Assistance Program for the Delaware County Office for the Aging, said Friday that no clients had spoken to her with concerns about unusually high energy bills.
Russ Southard, account executive for electricity and natural gas for Mirabito Energy Products, said he has spent the past week visiting customers to explain that increases in bills weren’t errors.
For some customers, electricity bills in January were about two or two-and-a-half times December bills, said Southard, who also is an Oneonta Common Council member for the Sixth Ward. But some other users who were locked into rates were insulated from the price swings, he said.
Mirabito Energy Products represents a variety of natural gas and electricity energy service companies, according to its website.
Bills for customers of Delaware County Electric Cooperative Inc. also have been higher than normal, said Mark Schneider, chief executive officer and general manager. The cooperative provides about 5,300 services to 4,600 members.
Bills later this month are expected to be higher because of continued cold weather and higher-than-normal pricing for wholesale electricity, Schneider said, however, with cooperatives the situation is a little better because some supply prices are locked in.
Delaware County Electric Cooperative buys about 75 percent to 80 percent of its supply through long-term contracts, providing a relatively stable price, Schneider said.
The remaining 20 percent to 25 percent of supply is purchased through NYISO, he said, and for the next billing cycle, the price per kilowatt-hour possibly could triple, resulting in a consumer bill that approaches 10 percent higher, he said Thursday, before the cooperative had received its bills.
The increase will apply to all customers — residential, commercial and industrial — proportionately, he said. The nonprofit cooperative, which is owned by the members it serves and is self-regulated, will continue working to keep costs down, he said, and to work with customers having trouble paying their bills.
“Market-priced energy has skyrocketed,” Schneider said. “This is an unfortunate and unintended consequence of deregulation in New York state.”