Winter in Texas has been unexpectedly colder than normal. Temperatures in December 2017 and January 2018 reached record lows for several days, with 21 days in the low 30s and 11 days below freezing.
The drastic change in weather led residents to turn on their heater more than usual. Gulf Power Co. has been busy responding to customers who are upset about their higher than normal bills.
Reasons for High Energy Bills
Winters in Texas are usually quite moderate, with only a few days of extreme temperatures. When temperatures dropped, residents had no choice but to turn on their heaters more. Some of the main reasons for increased energy bills included:
• Usage Increase
January 18 set an all-time record for single day power demand, with 2,817 megawatts of energy used during peak hours.
• Rate Changes
In July, Gulf Power Co. put higher rates into effect. Residents didn’t notice the effects of this increase until after the cold front hit.
Impact on Low Income Families
Sudden weather changes can have devastating effects on low income residents. Many of them may find it impossible to pay their high energy bill. This can be prevented by signing up for budget billing, which creates a fixed rate based upon average energy usage from the previous year. There are also local programs that provide assistance for energy bills, such as Project SHARE offered by the Salvation Army.
Effects on Landlords
The Texas cold front caught many landlords off-guard. It’s not uncommon for landlords to charge their tenants either a fixed or variable rate for utilities each month. The sudden surge in power usage, however, may have led to income loss for many landlords.
Those using a fixed utility rate most likely lost money from the increase in energy usage. The fixed rate is written into tenant leases, so this amount cannot be changed just because of unforeseen circumstances.
On the other hand, landlords who choose to use a variable rate for utility usage are able to adjust the amount they charge their tenants based upon usage for the entire building. This may sound fair, but it’s not fair to the tenants who conserve energy and use less overall.
The only fair solution to this problem is submetering. A submetering system involves installing energy meters for each unit. Instead of receiving a master utility bill, the landlord receives bills for each unit. Each tenant then pays for the energy they personally used. This encourages tenants to conserve energy to keep their bill lower. When temperatures drastically change, families are not responsible for the usage of other tenants.