Winter Bill Questions

It may seem like a distant memory, but the extended cold snap that impacted our area in mid-January had quite an effect on everyone’s energy usage. In fact, our generation and transmission supplier, PowerSouth, had their highest system peak ever on Jan. 18 at 2,457 MW (megawatts), a record previously set in January of 2014.

But what causes the usage to go so high? Many of us often anticipate higher energy use when the weather gets cold, so we do things to help offset it, just to find out that our bills are still very high. Below are some common questions or concerns people have about high energy bills even after they make adjustments at home and how the weather still influences your bill.

I had my central unit off and used space heaters.

On average, space heaters use 1,500 watts or 1.5 kW, compared to the compressor of a central heat pump, which uses roughly 2 kW for an entire home. Space heaters can only heat about 3-4 feet around them, so multiple heaters are usually required. If two or three heaters are used, the usage will be higher than the heat pump while only being able to heat a very small space, therefore, if a large area needs to be heated, or you are heating multiple rooms, a heat pump is the more cost effective (and safer) option.


I didn’t change my thermostat and my bill still went up.

A heating and cooling system uses the outside air to run, which means the temperature of that air determines how hard the system has to work and how often the unit operates in order to maintain the desired indoor temperature setting. The way a heat pump performs is that the compressor will take the heat from the home in the summer time and move it outside, and does the opposite in the winter. If the temperature outside is too cold for the compressor to extract enough heat to match the thermostat setting in your home, it will use backup, auxiliary or emergency heat (called heat strips for all electric heat pumps). These heat strips can use anywhere from 10-20 kW when they are on and will come on automatically if the temperature outside falls below approximately 35 degrees, or if the home falls two or three degrees below the thermostat setting. So, regardless of whether or not the thermostat setting has changed, the unit has to work harder when it’s extremely cold or hot outside, which costs more to operate.


I don’t have electric heat and my bill still went up.

Even with gas heat, most gas systems still have some type of electric equipment such as a fan or motor running. Besides home heating, water heaters also have to run more during cold winters, as the water temperature entering the tank is colder, meaning it takes more energy to heat the water to the 120-125 degree setting.  It would also be helpful to determine if any other electric product is running more during this time and we offer a free walk through audit to help locate potential issues.


I shut my unit off when I’m gone – my bill should not have gone up this much.

Shutting your unit off can help; however, when you get back home and turn on your unit during extremely cold weather, the unit will most likely run for several hours on backup heat strips trying to “catch up” with the new thermostat setting. It is best to turn down your thermostat no more than five degrees, and once you come home bump it up two degrees at a time, so as to not force the heat strips to come on automatically.


My bill was not this high last year this time.

Since outside temperatures play a role in how our heating systems operate, we must consider them as well as the duration of those low temperatures when making a comparison to the previous year or month. As the meteorologists have all agreed, this winter has been one of the coldest and longest we have seen with below freezing days for over three weeks this winter. Because of colder weather, and more days at these low temperatures, this is exactly what has caused bills to be higher this year than in 2016.


The power company raised my rates to take advantage of the cold weather

Our rates have not changed during this time. The reason for higher bills is due to the extreme weather and extra energy usage.