Many Cincinnati area homeowners and renters are opening their January/February heating bills this week, and getting sticker shock when they do.
Amy Greer of Monfort Heights has been been turning her thermostat down the past few weeks.
But her January 2021 Duke Energy bill is still crazy high.
"Our December bill was $168, and the one we just got was 315," Greer told us in a Zoom interview.
She is one of several WCPO 9 viewers to contact us about high heating bills.
"We live in a pretty large home but certainly not that you would think it would double in a month's time," Greer said.
It's not just big homes with high bills.
Erica Pritchett is a teacher's aide in Sharonville. "I am just trying to find out why it tripled," she said.
Her apartment’s electric bill jumped from $20 to $60 to start off 2021.
"I was wondering, if the rates went up or something changed,’Pritchett said.
It doesn't matter if you use natural gas, propane, or electric. Your bill will be probably be up.
But Duke says some of the highest bills are for people with electric heat pumps, because their backup electricity has been kicking on in recent weeks.
Cold weather just one reason
Duke spokeswoman Sally Thelen cites several reasons for the spike.
- One: January 2021 has been about 25% colder than January 2020, because we have had no warm spell so far this year.
- Two: Your January bill has 2-3 extra calendar days compared with December’s bill.
- And three, in some cases: If you use a 3rd party supplier, their rates may have jumped in January,
In Ohio, many third-party energy contracts expired at the end of 2020. Suppliers are required under Ohio law to send you a notice in the mail that your rate deal is ending, and that your contract is about to be renewed (almost always at a higher rate).
But many people pitch the letters, as they look like junk mail.
High bills in Kentucky, too
But even if you don't use a third-party supplier, January's bill will still be up. Kentucky homeowners don't have an option of switching gas or electric companies.
We spoke with Duke Energy, where spokeswoman Sally Thelen said if your January bill is much more than you can handle, you have several options:
- Ask about setting up Budget Billing, where you spread your payments over the entire year.
- Check to see if you qualify for HeatShare (in Ohio) or WinterCare (in Kentucky) for lower-income customers.
- Call your third-party energy company, if you have one. You may be able to defer part of this month's large bill, and negotiate a new rate going forward.
- Go to the Ohio PUCO website and choose a new provider, after comparing deals to get the lowest rate possible.
Unfortunately you cannot get a break on your current bill. You have to pay it, but if you call you should be able to get some payment options.
Amy Greer worries about retirees on social security.
"If this were a surprise bill, which I am sure it is for a lot of people, it would be trouble trying to get it paid this month," she said.
As always, don't waste your money.
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