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Higher electric bills irk customers

By JOHN PFEIFER jpfeifer@paducahsun.com

Many customers of Jackson Purchase Energy Corporation and West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation have complained about large increases in their electric bills this winter.

"West Kentucky Rural Electric responded to several hundred calls and emails from members with questions about their December/January bills," WKRECC President and CEO David Smart said.

"It's not unusual for us to receive calls about high bills in late winter and late summer," Smart said, "but this year we had cold weather earlier in the season and milder weather later, which was understandably confusing. Our members' usage for the December billing period actually looked more like a typical February billing period."

A number of customers took to social media to voice their displeasure.

At first just a casual observer, Brett Sorrells of Benton saw the posts increase and frustrations grow.

"I was checking Facebook, and people were talking about how their bills had quadrupled," Sorrells said.

"I followed up on Facebook, and bills haven't gone down," he said, while admitting his own bill hadn't increased much and that he hadn't seen any of the bills to confirm customers' social media claims.

Sorrells nonetheless started an online petition that he promised to send to Gov. Matt Bevin when 1,500 signatures were gained. As of Friday, the petition had been signed by 1,417.

JPEC and WKRECC pointed to a perfect storm of items that led to larger December bills.

The depletion of a "rate stabilization fund" created seven years ago was expected to increase rates for residential customers of Jackson Purchase Energy by 17.5 percent beginning last October, according to President and CEO Dennis Cannon.

"The rate stabilization fund has protected our members from higher bills for seven years," said Cannon in a September press release.

"During that time, JPEC members' bills were reduced by roughly $52 million over what they would have been without the fund. In 2015 alone, JPEC members' bills were offset by $12 million - including an average of about $260 per residential member. Residential members will see their bills increase by about 17.5 percent or $22 per month."

Cannon provided documentation that showed that the average residential customer using 1,245 kilowatts per month saw bills increase just over $23 in January and February, due to the depletion of the fund, an increase of 17.66 percent.

In his petition, Sorrells notes that "smart meters" have been replacing the old analog meters for some customers. "Since this replacement, electric bills have increased an incredible amount. Even doubled. Hundreds of Customers of West Kentucky Rural Electric, Jackson Purchase Electric, and various electric companies have been shocked to discover 'house mortgage' equivalent bills."

WKRECC has been replacing analog meters with smart meters since late last summer, and according to Smart, the change is 98 percent complete. He said that the new meters have been thoroughly tested and are within the 0.2 percent accuracy threshold required by the American National Standards Institute.

Cannon said that no such change has occurred at JPEC. "We're using the same metering technology and systems that have been in place for the past eight years," he said. "If a meter needs to be replaced, it is replaced with the same type of unit."

Sorrells' petition goes on to say, "It is believed by the people involved in this ridiculous unannounced hike in electrical rates that an investigation should take place to find out exactly why their bill has increased."

WKRECC has not raised its rates, and Cannon provided documentation that JPEC's monthly "facilities charge" of $12.45 and its kilowatt hour rate of 10.078 cents have not changed in the past year. Cannon said that the 10.078 kWh rate "has not changed since 2013."

WKRECC's rates are somewhat higher with a monthly charge of $23.40 plus a kWh rate between 10 and 10.2 cents. Both Smart and Cannon stressed any rate increases must be approved by the Public Service Commission.

JPECs rates are in the mid-range of electricity providers in western Kentucky, and WKRECC's are nearer the high end. Their rates are slightly less than the national average but nearly 20 to 25 percent higher than the Kentucky average, according to 2016 information from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEIA).

Both the USEIA and PSC say that utility costs are generally lower in densely populated urban areas and more expensive in rural areas.

Making electric bill increases harder to accept have been record warm temperatures since the beginning of January. The National Weather Service has reported this was the warmest winter on record.

Canon said, however, bills associated with February's record warmth may not yet have been received because "we're billing 30 days in arrears."

He also said bills sometimes vary due to different numbers of days in a billing cycle. He said that JPEC's November bill covered 27 days, December's 29 and January's 34 days.

Billing cycles even out over the course of a year, but Cannon recommended customers check both the number of billing days plus kilowatt usage when determining how much their bills change.

He said mobile homes and homes less well insulated would tend to see higher increases:

"Those in older housing stock see a much higher increase than those who live in newer, more efficient housing stock."

He stressed that as a cooperative, JPEC is member-owned. "Members own the company, and we're operated for the benefit of our members," Cannon said. "We're trying to educate our members on learning about their usage" and encouraged member/customers to "give us a call and we'll help you understand your bill."

JPEC customers with questions about their bills can call 270-442-7321. WKRECC customers can call 270-247-1321.

Comments made about this article - 1 Total

Hilandlady lady posted on: Saturday, March 18, 2017 7:14 PM

Title: High electric bill

My electric bill is still to high it's around $579.00

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