The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

March 13, 2014

Athens Utilities did not cash in during cold snap

By Jean Cole

— If you thought Athens Utilities made a huge pile of money during the recent cold snap, you would be wrong.

General Manager Gary Scroggins said Athens Utilities lost in the deal once it paid its wholesale power bill from the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“Our wholesale power bill during the cold snap went up a good bit,” Scroggins said.

This year’s January bill from TVA was up 17 percent over last year’s January bill. Its February bill rose 40 percent over last year’s February bill, he said.

“The price was much higher mainly due to the extreme cold weather a few nights,” he said. TVA charges utilities not only on their total consumption but also on demand, or the highest capacity required during one hour in the month. Scroggins said Athens Utilities has to pay a portion of its power bill based on that amount.

“If we set a high demand and don’t sell a lot more power, we have to make it up,” he said. In this case, Athens Utilities had to pay TVA a lot more for demand than will be offset because it does not charge residents for demand, he said.

In the case of industries, the cold snap does not affect their bills much, he said. That is because about 75 to 80 percent of their utilities costs come from the manufacturing process. Heating is not a major factor.

Scroggins takes the cold-snap losses in stride.

“We will lose money those two months, there is no doubt about that,” he said. “But, we see that a couple times of year.”

Scroggins said customers don’t realize this fact and, instead, believe the utility cashes in when customers turn up their thermostats.

“They don’t have much sympathy when they are seeing some of the highest bills they have seen in a long time,” Scroggins said.

The first cold snap stressed the wallets of many residential customers but the second was devastating in some cases.

Scroggins reminded residents if they can’t pay the full amount of their bills, the utility would work out a payment plan with them — as long as they call before the bill is past due.

“Do call in and let us know you need help,” Scroggins said. “We will set up a payment schedule and work with you over a period of time. Don’t wait until they come to disconnect your service for nonpayment.”