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High heating bills add to winter's chill

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By Cindy Simpson

Unusually cold weather continues to swell customers heating bills this winter.

While it seems February is turning milder, people are just getting the heating costs for January, which continued the December trend of biting cold winds and below-average lows.

“Generally, we saw many bills that came out in January for December usage double the amount for the same period last year or for the month preceding. That was to be expected based on the unusually cold weather in December,” said Harriman Utility Board manager Chuck Flora.

“I know we’ve had some high bills,” said Rockwood Electric Utility manager Kendell Bear.

Bear said energy usage was about the same or perhaps a little higher than last year.

He said the main reason customers saw higher bills was the TVA fuel surcharge that fluctuates monthly.

“They are seeing a little more because the rates fluctuate up and down because of the TVA fuelcost adjustment and usage,” Bear said.

Flora said he expected January’s usage to be about one and a half times what customers paid for the same period a year ago.

Both utilities are seeing more customers asking for extensions because they were struggling to cover the costs.

They are also turning to other outlets to cover utility costs.

“We have seen an increase in the number of customers asking for extensions and have readily made arrangements for customers who had their accounts paid up to date and got caught by the unexpectedly high bills,” Flora said.

Bear agreed.

“Certainly we try to work with everyone to make payment arrangements,” he said. “Are we stretching our cutoffs a little further? Probably we are.”

Both utilities have programs that raise funds to help customers with their utility costs, or they can refer their customers to another agency.