Arctic chill increases electric bills

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 The big chill of 2014 has given home heating units a workout and has increased electric bills, with record-setting cold from a polar vortex stretching further south than normal.

In January, temperatures for Nolin RECC members averaged 27 degrees, the coldest in 11 years. On Jan. 6, the United States set a record for the coldest day since 2000 with the average temperature nationwide at 17.9 degrees.

Even a slight degree change in average temperatures below 30 degrees can cause electric bills to increase significantly, according to Nolin RECC energy advisors. The average January temperature of 2014 dropped 9 degrees below the monthly average just one year ago.

“The bitter cold makes heating equipment run longer and use more electricity,” said Todd Drake, Nolin RECC Energy Services Coordinator. “And if someone uses a portable heater that increases a monthly bill significantly.”

Homeowners who rely on an air source electric heat pump to heat their homes have been among the most impacted by the arctic temperatures. That is because temperatures in the teens and single digits make a heat pump less efficient.

“People who own air-to air heat pumps need to make sure the units are serviced and maintained regularly or the extreme temperatures will make an inefficient heat pump operate less effectively,” said Drake.

Also, for a heat pump, energy advisors recommend setting the thermostat at a moderate temperature at the beginning of the season and leaving it there. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends about 68 degrees in winter.

Although it has been very cold, the winter of 2014 has not been the most brutal in Kentucky. The record was 1977, when the Ohio River froze and temperatures averaged 18 degrees.

Nolin offers two programs that can help members impacted by high bills:

• Button-Up shows people how to add insulation and take other energy efficiency measures, which also make homes more comfortable. Qualified homeowners that heat their homes with electricity receive rebates.

• SimpleSaver provides bill credits to those who voluntarily join and help reduce peak electric demand. To sign up, call (800) 305-5493 or go to www.simplesaver.coop.

“Steps taken to increase energy efficiency can help to offset higher bills,” Drake said. “The energy savings add up.”