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Increased usage leading to higher bills for MED customers

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MASSENA - An increase in the number of customers heating their homes with electricity has led to an increase in the amount of energy the Massena Electric Department (MED) must purchase to meet the demand of its users.

That, in turn, has led to increase in the bills many MED customers are receiving.

In order to meet customer demand, MED Treasurer Jeffrey M. Dobbins said MED had to purchase 25,000 megawatt hours in December.

“That’s something we’ve never had to do before,” he said, explaining that as more people elect to heat their homes with electricity usage during the winter months that pattern will continue to rise.

“They’re seeing their usage go up and in turn we’re seeing the amount of power we have to purchase go up,” said MED Superintendent Andrew J. McMahon.

Mr. Dobbins explained MED receives an allocation low-cost hydropower each month with any usage above that having to be purchased on the open market at a much higher rate.

In the end though, Mr. Dobbins said MED customers are still receiving their power for significantly less than customers of National Grid.

He said that National Grid customers pay between 14 and 18 cents per kilowatt hour, while MED customers are paying between 5 and 7 cents per kilowatt hour.

The difference, he said, “They’re (MED customers) using more electricity.”

A National Grid customer using 1,123 kilowatt hours of power during the most recent billing cycle received a bill of $150.76. An MED customer with similar usage would see a bill of $75.61, Mr. Dobbins said.

Mr. Dobbins said the average residential customer not using electricity to heat their homes uses roughly 1,100 kilowatt hours of power. In December, they would have seen a bill of $55 versus a bill of $75.61 that they would have received this month.

For customer’s using electricity to heat their homes, usage is more in the range of 3,000 kilowatt hours, he said.

A customer using 3,000 kilowatt hours of energy would have seen a December bill of $142. That same usage the following month would have resulted in a January bill of $197.

Basically, Mr. Dobbins said their charge per kilowatt hour has increased from 5.5 cents to 6.5 cents.

Mr. Dobbins said its’s not hard to tell which customers are using electricity to heat their homes.

“Once you see someone with 3,000 kilowatt hours (a month), you know they’re using some sort of electric heat,” Mr. Dobbins said, noting that in December of 2012 there were 728 such customers. That number rose to 1,123 customers in December 2013 and has climbed to 1,227 customers this month.

When asked if there was a chance MED could see its allocation of low-cost power increased, Mr. McMahon said that was not a possibility.

“Since we can’t get another block of low cost power for reasons other than economic development, we’ve been trying to emphasise energy efficiency,” he said. “We have programs for renters, businesses, landlords and individual property owners. As people use more energy in their homes, we want them to take a step back and look at how they’re using their energy.”

And that is something that Mr. Dobbins said is beyond MED’s control.

“We don’t control what they (customers) do,” he said. “We’ve seen a big increase in how much people are using.”

Mr. Dobbins said the average MED customer is using 50 kilowatt hours more of power now than they were last year at this time last year.

“We have 8,000 customers and if every customer is using 50 kilowatts more that’s 400,000 kilowatts per month and that’s just residential customers,” Mr. Dobbins said.

Increased energy usage though isn’t limited to just MED customers.

“The thing is because of the Polar Vortex, people are using more energy to heat their homes,” Mr. McMahon said. “In the National Grid territory, gas, propane and wood pellet bills are going up and we’re seeing that too.”

Noting that December energy costs are reflected in January’s bills, Mr. Dobbins said customers can also expect higher than normal bills in February.

To help alleviate the costs, at least a little bit, Mr. McMahon said MED has distributed more than 400 weatherization kits to low-income customers. The kits include, among other things, outlet covers and door strips to help reduce drafts.

“Just a little leak in your home on cold days, especially cold, windy days, can really make a difference,” he said, adding he would also like to see more people take advantage of their energy efficiency programs.

“If people would take advantage of our energy efficiency programs, their bills could start coming down,” he noted.

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