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Olson warns of high utility bills

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Olson photo by Thomas J. Turney Rich Olson, Thursday,15, 2012.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Monday, January 8, 2018

Even after the cold weather passes, Elizabeth City residents may feel a chill in their wallets.

City utility customers “can expect larger than normal utility bills for January,” City Manager Rich Olson warned in his weekly FYI memo on Friday. The cold has forced heating systems to use a lot of power to keep people warm, and so Olson warned the city likely established a new record for peak electrical usage.

The city set a record peak of 85.8 Megawatts in February 2015, thanks to bitterly cold temperatures that taxed the city utility and neighboring Albemarle Electric Membership Corporation and Dominion Power. Then, as now, icy conditions also persisted throughout the area, causing hazardous conditions and closing down schools.

Olson didn't project what the new peak would be, but he noted the city's electrical peak on the morning of Jan. 3 was 82.4 Megawatts, very close to the past record. The city used load management, which includes running generators and other measures, to shave 10 to 12 Megawatts off that demand and reduce the strain on the city's utility system.

Olson also noted this month already stands in contrast to January 2017, when the region had fairly moderate weather.

In a related update, Olson also reported the city has been keeping an eye on hot water heaters, and that the Nexgrid “smart grid” pilot project in the downtown has helped the city identify hot water leaks.

“We have been able to advise customers before they realized they had a problem,” Olson reported.

The city has yet to set up the Nexgrid system citywide because the city needs a new utility billing system set up first, Olson has also said.

City officials have said that energy-inefficient residences are typically the culprit for excessive utility bills. The city offers free energy audits to help people figure out how to make their homes more energy efficient, and also offers funding for weatherizing houses. Those interested can call 338-5115 for more information.

Local utilities also offer various tips for conserving energy in the cold. People should keep the thermostat as low as is comfortable, and turn it down several degrees when leaving home. People should also check for air leaks, ensure windows are covered with drapes or shades, and turn down their water heaters to a warm but not scalding setting. For more tips, go to energy.gov/energysaver.

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