Shocking Electric Bills - And Response (7)

  • Tuesday, January 30, 2018

We, along with a massive amount of our friends,  family, neighbors, and Facebook friends,  have been in panic mode since Saturday as our latest bills from EPB have begun to arrive. After we got up off the floor from passing out at the fright and shock of the charges, that is.


We understand the weather has been insane.

We get that the temperatures and shifts are not normal. What we don't understand is why our bills are double and triple what a normal January is.


If you flip the bill over, why are we being charged $3 plus more per kilowatt hour for this January than we were in January 2017? Who can buy food and medications when we have $350-$600 electric bills that are due the second week of February?


Is it just Lookout Valley, or is it all customers? 


Our home happens to be one of the oldest and most recognizable homes in our community.  We have insulated every square foot of it. Every original window and door that we have not replaced has been winterized and insulated with commercial grade wind proof and water proof, 1mm thick, shrink wrap. We have replaced every inch of wiring and plumbing.  We have upgraded every appliance in the entire house to the most current and most energy efficient possible. We do not have a heat pump or HVAC system.  We have high efficiency room units that only heat or cool the specific room we happen to be using at said time. We do not heat or cool the entire house at all times. We also keep the thermostat control set between 66° to 68° regardless of time of year.

Now, with all that said, can someone explain, with some level of reasonal believability, why the cost per day went from $8.60 for December, 2017, to $11.86 per day for January, 2018, without telling us it has to do with TVA fuel costs.  What did TVA do? Drive the electricity in trucks to EPB? That's sarcasm, by the way. We know how electricity travels.

Richard and Thomas Hendricks Smith
 * * *
Dear Mr. Smith,


We regret you were taken by surprise when you opened your power bill this month. I’m writing to answer your question and make some suggestions that may be help you and others going forward.


First, as you mentioned, when the weather is very cold it takes a great deal of additional power to keep your home comfortable. At milder temperatures, your HVAC operates intermittently. With extremely cold temperatures, HVAC units must run continuously at full capacity and heat pumps often kick into auxiliary or emergency mode which utilizes even more energy. So far, the average January temperature has been 35 degrees with temperatures remaining below freezing for extended periods of time, as compared to last January’s average temperature of 48 degrees with a mix of warmer and cooler weather. As you can imagine, continuously operating HVAC to maintain warmth when it is very cold requires much more power to keep your home comfortable than during milder temperatures.


Keeping in mind that extremely cold temperatures and variable weather conditions can make it very difficult for customers to anticipate their actual power use, EPB offers two options to make your power bill more predictable:


  1. Levelized Bill: When you sign up for Levelized Bill, you will not experience unpredictable seasonal swings. You’ll pay a rolling average of your bill for the last 12 months, so your bill typically won’t change by more than a few dollars each month. Available to all customers who have had service at their location for at least 12 months, please call for more information or to enroll in Levelized Bill, (423) 648-1EPB (1372).
  2. MyEPB App: The MyEPB App continuously tracks your power use and gives you a running tally of your bill. You can also set up notifications, so you’ll receive an email when your bill exceeds a certain amount. You can download the MyEPB App for free from both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store:


We can also help you get the most value for the energy you use. With eScore, we’ll give your home a free energy check-up and provide you with a prioritized list of energy-saving recommendations to improve your eScore rating in each category, as well as a list of EPB & TVA Quality Contractors who will help get you there. Through the program, you can also qualify for rebates for many energy saving home improvements. For more information and to sign up, please call 423-648-1372.


We hope these options are helpful to you.


Also, we appreciate the opportunity to clarify information about EPB’s electric rates, which have not increased by $3 per kWh since last January. Information about EPB’s electric rates is publicly available on our website at


Residential customer bills have three components. First, EPB’s residential electric rate, which as of October 2017 is fixed at 8.116 cents per kWh.  Second, TVA’s fuel cost adjustment rate, which is 1.911 cents per kWh for January. This rate fluctuates slightly each month, based on how much fuel TVA must purchase to generate enough energy to meet customer demand. So the net electric rate is 10.27 cents per kWh. The third component is a fixed monthly Residential Customer Charge of $9.36, which is substantially lower than other utilities in the region.


Here is a five-year review of EPB residential electric rates:


2018 – 8.116 cents/kWh

2017 – 7.966 cents/kWh

2016 – 7.817 cents/kWh

2015 – 7.666 cents/kWh

2014 – 7.394 cents/kWh


In June 2015, EPB raised its residential rates 3.5 percent to offset the rising costs of recovering from the damage caused by more frequent severe weather events and the effects of large monthly temperature fluctuations on the peak energy demand charges that EPB pays to the Tennessee Valley Authority for generated power. Since then, TVA has passed along rate increases to distributors like EPB of 1.5 percent each year, the most recent being October 2017.


We are fortunate to live in a region that enjoys some of the lowest electric rates in the country. I hope this information clarifies the value of EPB Electric Power, which for a few dollars a day maintains the comfort and convenience of our customers in their homes with reliable energy no matter what the weather brings.


Thank you,


John Pless

EPB Public Relations 


* * *


Don't blame EPB; blame TVA, who generates the power EPB distributes. If you take a look at the recent Synapse Energy Economics study of TVA rates, you will see that from 2011 to 2016, TVA shifted $1.4 billion of costs from factories to homeowners. The best part is that their CEO is paid north of $6 million per year to give handouts to his industry buddies at our expense. 

Charles McCullough 


* * *


Dear Mr. Smith,

Excellent citizen observation, you have provided a quantifiable EPB rate and reasonable question. 

Instead of addressing your rate question, EPB’s hired gun, professional public relations employee has deflected the subject matter to heat pump operation in cold weather, coupled with offers to take your outrageous bills and average them out to have equal monthly payments.

Yet, EPB’s representative in his opinion does not offer a word of response regarding your rate increase comment.  Isn’t that grand?

We can talk HVAC all day long, but I would rather talk about EPB rate increases that you have reasonably mentioned.

While the public appreciates the response from EPB’s public relations professional to deflect rate discussion, and his analysis on cold weather heat pump function and billing options, your concerns regarding rate increases have been completely omitted by EPB.  Wonder why?

So, let us talk about rates.

The Electric Power Board has executed extraordinary power bill increases over the past five years.

Since you have some data, a simple open records letter to the EPB asking them to disclose all KWH increases over the last five years would be very helpful.  If you collect the data, please share it in another Chatttanoogan post. I would love to read it.

While EPB has always blamed their rates on TVA and power grid generators, there is a lot more to it. 

EPB wastes money like no other utility in the region. I am process of looking at other municipal electric utility rates, and comparing to EPB.


The EPB is oversighted by a city appointed “Yes” board that only knows the spend mode since they entered fiber business.

Many believe EPB needs more financial controls in their spending, called restraints.

EPB is wasteful in excessive advertising, has too many former elected political hacks on the payroll as lobbyist, and the list goes on.  They could easily have lower rates.

EPB is a public owned utility and their records are the publics records on most days.  I would again encourage you to look closely at EPB’s rate increases over time, and the cumulative impact to the public.

Publish your electric rate increases over the last five years EPB, and that won’t cost you a Gig.

April Eidson 


* * * 


I don't get it, that original complaint:  "If you flip the bill over, why are we being charged $3 plus more per kilowatt hour for this January than we were in January 2017?"

I turned over my latest bill, the highest ever at $234.46 due on Feb. 9, and found no $3 charge.  I also checked my EPB payment records all the way back through 2013 and found that the January 2017 price per kiloWatt hour was in fact the highest of any month in the past five years. 

Admittedly that price (10.940 cents per kWh, vs. 10.444 cents on the latest bill), is the net overall price to me per kWh, rather than the neatly broken down figures given by Mr. Pless that include "a fixed monthly Residential Customer Charge of $9.36."  Perhaps it would be wise of the EPB to provide that full breakdown of charges on every monthly bill, but that's their business, not mine.

It's a simple enough matter for anyone to check their power usage; the new digital meters are easy to read, and the total figure is given on the back of every EPB bill.  By curious personal habit I check the outdoor temperature reading every morning when I get up, and also record the electric meter reading.  Since I know that the average cost of a kWh is about 10 cents, I know roughly how much every day's electricity has cost me.  And in the winter, the lower the temperature is, the higher the electric meter readings are.  July and August, of course, produce much higher temperatures which also increase the electric bills.

During most of this December and January I made the conscious decision to run the little electric heater in my unheated basement utility room office; I was just plain cold, and my tired bones keep getting older and more touchy about such things.  Yes, I was dismayed to see those $8, $9, and $10 days on my records every morning, and it really hurt to think about an electric bill of $250 or so for the month.  At and actual $234.46, I almost felt relieved. 

And the numbers don't lie; I'm an engineer, so I can usually tell when numbers aren't quite right.  As far as I can tell, the Electric Power Board has nothing to apologize for in this case.  Oh, there might be another time, another situation, when they have some serious explaining to do, but not right now.

Hey, here's an interesting note from the Way Back Machine:  Way back 20 or more years ago, after we'd all experienced ultra-high heating bills and had hyper-insulated our homes, sealed around the windows and doors, and adjusted the thermostats a bit, the city's overall electric and gas heating needs dropped significantly.  The drop was so sudden and so large that the local gas company publicly complained about our collective and selfish reduction in heating gas.  Their unbelievable solution was to raise the price of heating gas, to compensate for their loss in income.  That seemed like a strange way to get folks to use more gas, but what do I know about such things?

In the present case, though, I suspect that the sudden and seemingly outrageous rise in electric bills is simply a matter of individual over-use of the juice.  It has been cold, and it's very easy to turn up the thermostat, or turn on another little portable electric heater, and soak up that blessed warmth.  And then the bill comes due ... .  Hey, that's how most of life works, isn't it?

Larry Cloud
Lookout Valley 


* * * 


Thanks for the insight, Larry. When you break it down by the day, it's easy to see how a $10 day (x 30 days) can equal an seemingly exorbitant electric bill. It really does become simple math. 


On the flip side, heat pumps are most likely to blame for terrible inefficiencies in colder weather. A heat pump is essentially an air conditioner run backwards. So an A/C unit takes heat out of the inside air and transfers it to the other side of the wall, thus cooling the inside. This works well when you have heat to move. The problem arises when its cold and there's no heat to take out of the air to transfer back inside. When the temperature falls below ~30-40 degrees outside, there isn't enough heat in the ambient air to efficiently heat a house. This means that your poor heat pump will try, and eventually turn on Emergency Heat. Emergency heat is resistance heating, which is also very inefficient.  


Anyone who has a heat pump should understand that when the temperatures drop below freezing, they will be paying a premium to stay warm. This is why I always seek out a gas furnace. 

Tim Giordano 


* * * 


I have read the response from other Lookout Valley residents.  I too, do not understand these tremendous rate increases.  In Nov $199.39, cost per day $6.88, In Dec $276.14 cost per day $9.47, in Jan $530.04, cost per day $17.05, with doubled kilowatts.  


I have lived here since 1985, with many winters with low temperatures.  Never had a bill over $400.  

I am shocked and appalled at this bill.  I'm insulated, never turn on heat pump over 72, and try to turn it down even more, except if small children visit.

I've been upset for six days now, and keeping thermostat at 67, and wearing a coat.

Tammy Segneri 
Lookout Valley 


* * * 


Our electric bill increased from $102 to $124 year over year.  I have a gas furnace and that bill increased from $98 last year to $134 this year.  We always adjust the thermostat accordingly when frigid temperatures are forecasted to conserve energy and expenses (usually 70 in mild winter weather and 66-68 in extreme cold).  While staying warm is subjective, bills are not.  Once emergency heat kicks on, get ready to pay or throw an extra blanket on the bed.  The electric rates are not the issue. 

Chris Morgan


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