LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Less than a month after East Texans struggled with unusually high electric bills, the Deep East Texas Electric Cooperative released a letter warning its members to be prepared for high electric bills because of the increased energy usage that stemmed from the recent sub-freezing temperatures.
"With the cold temperatures the past few months, all electric providers in the state, and most in our nation, saw a significant rise in residential power usage," said Brittney Johnson, a spokeswoman for DETEC. "This resulted in higher-than-normal monthly bills for many of our members last month. These higher-than-normal bills have been a direct result of increased energy usage by our members."
It's a letter customers say they don't want to hear.
"It tells you to conserve but when you are conserving and doing everything you can to conserve, what more can you do when they are still raising it?" said Nancy Cox.
Johnson said that the Deep East Texas Electric Cooperative saw a 71-percent increase in total residential usage from January bills a year ago and a 38-percent increase in residential usage from the previous month.
As a result of the bitter cold, which was accompanied by ice and snow, there were widespread school and business closings across East Texas. As a result, families stayed home during periods when they might normally adjust their thermostats downward, Johnson said.
"It is important to remember that unlike many of your other needs - electricity is paid for after it is consumed," Johnson said. "With this in mind DETEC would like to encourage members to conserve now to avoid higher bills later."
Johnson said DETEC member services representatives are available to discuss bills and payment options. However, she stressed that as if customers realize they may need to make payment arrangements, they need to call DETEC as soon as possible.
The letter from DETEC listed some things people can do to conserve energy during the cold weather months.
Use space heaters sparingly. Johnson said space heaters are great to warm one portion of a room. However, they do not have circulating fans to accommodate heating entire rooms or homes efficiently. She said using a space heater can add $60-90 to a monthly energy bill.
Turn down your thermostat - the letter recommended that people keep their thermostats around 68 degrees during winter months. Something as simple as using more blankets and clothes can make a big difference in your energy bill, Johnson said. She said turning down the thermostat can save 3-5 percent per degree on your monthly energy bill.
"I always turn my thermostat down to 68....during the day I turn it off, lots of the times, I usually just like to have the windows out to cool the house out, but it's been so cold, I kept it down and it's working," said Cox.
Keep shades and curtains open during the day on the south side of your home to allow solar heating. Close them at night to retain heat.
If you have a fireplace, close the damper when the fireplace is not in use.
"I build a fire in a fireplace, but it just seems like there's no solution to a high utility bill," said Wesley Vaughan.
Install an insulating water heart jacket. Johnson said the water coming into your pipes is much colder and requires more energy to warm it to the proper temperature.
Johson says no matter what people say usage is the main problem.
"Unfortunately, usage will likely still be somewhat higher than we have normally seen in the past few years. This is simply due to the severe nature of the cold fronts that we have experienced in the past few months and are continuing to experience. Conservation efforts help lower usage but they may not completely offset the effects of this severely cold weather," Johnson said.
Johnson also recommended that DETEC members visit www.TogetherWeSave.com for more tips on keeping monthly electrical bills affordable.
But for customers who live in rural areas, they say they just don't have a choice.
"When you have no competition, you have no strength as a user at all because you're locked into the only game in town, which is Deep East Texas," said Vaughan.
"We have no other options. I've called them price gougers, they can raise it and lower it anytime they want to because we have no other options," said Cox.
Johnson said the reason for rural area residents having no other options is because DETEC refused to opt into competition back in 1999.
"Deep East Texas Electric Cooperative is accountable directly to you, through the board of directors elected by and composed of members like you," Johnson said. "Unlike larger, for-profit electric companies, we do not add on charges to generate returns. In fact, any extra money we make is passed on to our members in the form of Capital Credits."
If you have questions about your bill, or you are having difficulty making a payment, call and discuss it with one of DETEC's member service representatives at (936) 229-4000. The toll-free number is 1-866-392-2547.