MADISON COUNTY, Ala. – A number of Huntsville Utilities customers have reached out to News 19 with concerns about high utility bills for January and February. After getting several emails and phone calls we decided to take a closer look at this issue.
Many people told us their bills doubled or nearly doubled. It’s something that is especially concerning for those who tell us they’ve worked diligently to conserve energy.
“There are a lot of people who are concerned,” said Ernie Bragg, a Huntsville Utilities customer.
After Bragg bought his home in Meridianville, he made it energy efficient by replacing the roof, windows, HVAC unit and doors. That’s why he was shocked when he got his two most recent utility bills.
“The house itself should not warrant those high bills with everything I’ve done to prevent that,” he said.
He says last year his bill due in February cost $196. This year he says it’s $294. News 19 has been in contact with other Madison County residents. One told us their February 2020 bill was $204. This year it is $365.
Bragg took his concerns to social media using the Nextdoor app.
“I made a comment on February first… I’ve gotten 125 people saying yes their bill is going up. Some people said they almost fainted when they saw their bill,” Bragg said.
In different Facebook groups in the area, posts about utility bills have been littered with comments sharing similar stories and concerns.
Bragg is concerned his newly installed smart meter could be to blame.
We asked Huntsville Utilities if they have found any problems with their meters, new or old.
“I’ve not found any metering issues and we’ll continue to look into that when customers ask us to,” said Joe Gehrdes, Huntsville Utilities spokesperson.
Huntsville Utilities has spent the last couple years gradually installing new smart meters for each of its customers. They are a third of the way complete.
“I really think it’s a timing thing just a bad coincidence,” Gehrdes.
The utility’s spokesman says the colder weather is what’s causing the higher bills this year. He asks people to look at the degree days on their January statements.
In December, we saw degree days in the 700’s. That’s unusual. For that billing month that was the highest we’ve seen in 10 years. January was not as bad but it was up significantly over last year,” Gehrdes said.
He says many customers use heat pumps which can create high utility costs in cold weather.
Gehrdes says in January and February 2018 people probably paid as much as they are this year due to similar cold weather conditions. News 19 was able to review a couple of customer bills that went back to 2018 and we did observe the trend Huntsville Utilities cited.
Utility bills also included more days for the bill due in February. Gehrdes says this was due to different holidays that occurred recently.
If people do not want a smart meter they don’t have to get one. There is an option to opt-out if it hasn’t been installed. That choice is free for now but could result in a service charge after all the new meters are installed.
If anyone has any concerns about their bill or their meter, Gehrdes asks them to call Huntsville Utilities. He adds that in many cases when a crew has been called to a home, the customer needed to have their HVAC unit serviced.
News 19 also looked up the average temperatures for the past few years.
2017 mean average temperatures
- November: 54.4
- December: 43.5
2018 mean average temperatures
- January: 38.1
- February: 54.6
- November: 47.9
- December: 47.1
2019 mean average temperatures
- January: 42.8
- February: 52.6
- November: 48.0
- December: 49.6
2020 mean average temperatures
- January: 46.8
- February: 47.1
- November: 54.7
- December: 43.0
2021 mean average temperatures
- January: 41.8