News

Heating bills spike like it's the polar vortex of January 2014

Written by Jim Hook/The Chambersburg Public Opinion | Jan 5, 2018 5:42 PM

(Chambersburg) -- The first cold snap of 2018 is set to run its course, but only after goosing home heating bills.

Demand for natural gas and electricity are at near record levels as temperatures fell to near records and winds cut around weather stripping.

Two of the top 10 winter peaks for electricity demand in the Mid-Atlantic region came this week.

A wind chill advisory is set to expire at 6 p.m. Saturday when the wind calms, but Sunday morning temperatures may approach zero. Temperatures should warm up to freezing late Monday afternoon.

Temperatures have been consistent. Daily highs haven't been much different than the lows. The high of 14 degrees on Friday in Lancaster shattered the record lowest maximum temperature for the date set at 21 degrees in 1920, according the Eric Horst, director of the Millersville University Weather Information Center.

Energy usage has rivaled that of January 2014 when many Pennsylvanians who saw their energy bills skyrocket. They had bought energy at variable rates, and the frigid temperatures forced their suppliers to buy on the volatile spot market.

Recent weather "has placed extreme demand on our system," said Chambersburg Borough Manager Jeffrey Stonehill. "This is demand that we are prepared to meet. We have shopped for wholesale power on behalf of our customers and believe that we are well positioned to meet all the power consumption needs of the borough with no negative impact on rates."

PJM Interconnection, which manages the electric grid in the Mid-Atlantic states, also met near-record demand. PJM reported that peak demand on Jan. 3 and 5 came in at No. 9 and No. 7 respectively on the all-time winter peaks. Electricity demand is forecast to drop over the next couple of days.

The "polar vortex" of Jan. 24-30, 2014, placed four days in the top 10. The record was set Jan. 20, 2015.

Chambersburg residents buy electricity from the borough electric department. The borough's highest load was 65 megawatts on Feb. 16, 2015.

"It is possible today (Friday,) late afternoon, when folks get home from work, that peak load may be passed," Stonehill said. The previous peak for the recent cold snap was 60MW at 9 a.m. Friday.

The borough's two electric generating stations, fueled by natural gas, have been running fairly regularly as determined by PJM, Stonehill said

"This is a very useful part of the borough's electric portfolio strategy," he said. "As we buy electricity from the grid, we also sell electricity to the grid. The net of these transactions is one of the reasons that Chambersburg is able to maintain such low rates for our customers."

Chambersburg also provides natural gas to borough residents. Friday and Saturday are expected to be among the highest days for gas consumption for the borough, according to Stonehill. A record of 11,418 dekatherms (excluding power plant use of natural gas) was set on Jan. 1, 2015. Current use is projected to be less than 11,000 dth.

"We are watching carefully the rising price of natural gas," Stonehill said. "The gas we acquire on the wholesale market is also used by the electric department to make power at the generating stations. We need to carefully watch those prices to ensure that the generating stations are making sufficient benefit from the burning of natural gas to make electricity. Our gas department has been working around the clock to acquire additional gas from regional suppliers so the generating stations can keep operating. In a pinch, the generating stations can also use diesel fuel to make power, but obviously we prefer natural gas."

Consumers outside the borough can sign up for buying gas at fixed or variable rates.  The Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania system supplies natural gas to consumers outside the borough.

"Increased heating needs could lead to higher bills depending on the amount of energy used," said Columbia Gas spokesman Russell Bedell, "but it's important to remember that Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania's rates are fixed, and customers won't see an increase in the portions of their bills that include customer or commodity charges based on the temperature."

He said the utility projected that the period from mid-December to mid-January would be 23 percent colder than normal. It is difficult to quantify how much additional gas a consumer will use.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The Chambersburg Public Opinion

Tagged under , ,

back to top

Give Now

Estate Planning

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Smart Talk

National Edward R. Murrow Awards

DuPont Columbia Awards

Support Local Journalism

Latest News from NPR

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »