Let The Electric Bill Outrage Begin: As Two-Month Cold Snap Overlaps Disappearing Utility Rate Cap

inside groundwater heat pump photo

Inside of the Ground Water Heat Pump. Image credit:NewCastle University miniblog.

Electricity bills are rising steeply all over the USA. In some of the most coal-dependent states, increases are in the 7% to 100% range, and signs of consumer outrage are surfacing. This is before any Cap & Trade for climate protection. A major contributing factor is deregulation of the power industry, initiated by Congress in the free-market fervor of the mid-90's, which called for post-dated phase out of electricity 'rate caps' a.k.a. removal of price controls.

Why so much? Steel got more expensive. Coal got more expensive. Demand increased. And, pollution controls had to be figured in. Coal ash had to be better managed. That's not all. The historic low temperatures experienced since December 2009 have thermostats on high from Florida to Maine, west to Texas and North Dakota. What's next? Scapegoating is the next step; but, it will be hard to blame today's elected officials for this one. (Although that won't stop the cable news crew from trying.)

The Roanoke Times provides an example from Big Coal's backyard. Power bills spin upward after cold snap Appalachian customers have been hit with a combination of rate increases and weather.

For most residential customers across Appalachian Power Co.'s service area, bills soared from a comparatively warm November to December, when the region endured a prolonged period of cold weather.

The Meckleys' bill increased by about 166 percent.

Like other Appalachian customers, Meckley wondered how much the utility's elevated rate charges ratcheted up her bill. The rate increases certainly contributed, but the utility says weather played a larger role.

Rate increases in 2009, either approved or implemented as an interim rate, increased the bill of an average residential customer by about 23 percent compared with December 2008, according to Appalachian. December 2009 rates were about 61 percent higher than in December 2007, the utility reports.

Impact on home values.
Because natural gas prices are not going up at similar rates, we can expect domestic gas furnaces to rise in popularity and also for homes with groundwater heat pumps to fall into disfavor, possibly even to loose value on the resale market. This is unfortunate, because the overall efficiency and low carbon footprint ought to give them an edge.

Fire up the wood burner.
Wood stoves, despite the air quality degradation that can be caused and in spite of the fact that wood burning may not work out for the aged or folks with health issues (who can't safely handle the wood), are bound to see a resurgence.

Added resistance to climate legislation: the other predetermined outcome.
This lands right in the lap of politicians looking for avenues of attack against the climate bill that will be considered by the US Congress this year. Fossil lobbyists and 'tea baggers' will be delighted to have the electric bill ammo passed their way. I can see the protest sign already: a scaled up utility bill on a stick.

Demands to reinstate price controls will fall on the ears of leaders of both parties. This will be interesting to watch. Time to buy some locally grown popcorn.