If you have not yet received your January Duke Energy bill yet, brace yourself.
At least a dozen Cincinnati area Duke customers have complained to 9 On Your Side about a big jump in their heating bill this new year, despite recent near-record 60 degree weather.
So we wanted to know what's going on and what you can do.
January bill five times higher
Victoria Brown and her husband own a small T-shirt and sign shop in Florence, Kentucky called Abrupt Design.
But this Northern Kentucky woman got an abrupt shock, when her January Duke bill just turned out to be five times the size of her last one.
"It was over $700, and it normally runs about $120," the stunned shop owner said. The total, with taxes, came to almost $800 for this small, 700-square-foot shop in a strip mall.
She says there's no reason for such a surge, even with some colder days.
"Nothing has changed. Absolutely nothing has changed" in her shop, she said.
Other customers tell us of more modest, but still significant increases in their latest January heating bill.
Why the high bills?
So we went to Duke to find out why so many people are getting big heating bills right now, given that it has been a much above average two weeks, with temperatures exceeding 60 degrees on several days.
But it turns out there may be two reasons for a surge in your bill, according to Duke.
"If you remember, December was cold. Aside from around Christmas, it was significantly colder than a year ago," Duke's Lee Freedman explained. He says we've actually had three weeks of temperatures below freezing this winter.
Natural gas usage has been 70 percent higher than last January, when there was almost no cold weather.
Natural gas rates, nationwide, are 25 percent higher this year than last year.
In addition, an average Christmas light display outside your house can cost$40 a month in electricity (more than $1 a day), according to the government. New LED bulbs are much cheaper to run.
"So you have a somewhat colder winter, you are going to heat your home more, you are using more energy, and it costs more, so your entire bill is going to go up," Freedman said.
But some customers like Victoria Brown say that doesn't explain their bill. She says this will really hurt her small shop.
"A big bill like that, it hits really hard. That's A big chunk of change for us!"
What you can do
Duke says it will investigate Brown's bill.
Meantime, if this happens to you, you can call Duke and request a second meter reading. You can also set up a home energy audit through them, where inspectors will look over your house for air leaks or other problems.
That way you don't waste your money.
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