Expect higher bills after cold weather

Published 9:23 pm Saturday, February 8, 2014

Suffolk residents’ utility bills could be higher for the month of January than they’ve been in a while, thanks to the cold temperatures the area endured for much of the month.

Folks trying to keep their pipes from freezing and bursting likely contributed to a slight increase in water usage on last month’s coldest days.

“We saw a very small uptick for the colder days that were less than 20 degree lows,” city Director of Public Utilities Al Moor said. “We saw maybe a 2-percent uptick on colder days.”

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He was comparing the days with lows below 20 degrees to the month’s average. Comparing this January’s water usage to previous Januaries would not be valid because usage increases from year to year because of new connections, he said.

Those customers who dripped water from their pipes likely will see an increase in their bill due to the increased usage. But it won’t be nearly as bad as the headache experienced by 125 of their neighbors, who had burst pipes and had to call Moor’s department to get their water turned off.

“In the realm of things, 2 percent is a small percentage,” Moor said. “It wasn’t a major influence to our production.”

At Griffin Oil and Propane, Vice President Chris Pond said the company had noticed about a 15 to 20 percent increase in consumption of its heating products compared to January 2013.

“There’s no way to avoid some increased consumption,” Pond said. “I think it’s been noticeable for many homeowners that they’ve probably consumed more than they’re used to. I know I’ve consumed more at my house, and I think everybody’s in the same boat.”

Pond said folks in the area are “hopefully seeing the light at the end of the tunnel” with cold weather. But he noted the area had escaped much of the bad weather experienced in the Midwest and Northeast.

“People lose sight of what’s going on in other parts of the country,” he said.

Dominion Virginia Power spokeswoman Bonita Harris said the company did not yet have exact figures on the increased usage in January. It does anticipate, however, increased reliance on its EnergyShare program, which helps pay heating bills for people who are experiencing a crisis or have a low income.

“Many are facing difficult situations, particularly the elderly and those with low incomes,” said Robert M. Blue, president of the power company. “We are asking our neighbors and the business community to consider making a donation so more people can be helped.”

The company itself made a $1 million contribution to EnergyShare, which can be used for any type of heating source, including oil, wood, kerosene, natural gas or electricity.

Contribution envelopes will be included in customers’ February bills, according to a news release from the company. Donors can also mail a check to EnergyShare, P.O. Box 91717, Richmond, VA 23291-9717.

Those needing assistance from EnergyShare should contact the Salvation Army, 539-5201 or 400 Bank St.