Paying for the Bitter Cold

Created: 01/23/2014 5:20 PM
By: Dan Conradt

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- You've gotten through changes in school schedules and cars that won't start. But if it hasn't already, the next sign of how cold it's really been is about to show up in your mailbox.

“It is somewhat of a shock," said Austin utilities general manager Mark Nibaur.

If the thermometer doesn't convince you of how cold it's really be, your utility bill will.

"Compared to last month we're seeing bills 30, 35 percent higher," Mark Nibaur told us. And compared to a year ago: "20 to 25 percent higher."

The energy industry measures temperature in what it calls ‘degree days’.

"We use that number to determine how much energy is going to be used that day," Austin utilities’ Kelly Lady explained.

And like your bill, those numbers have spiked.

"The month of December we had 27 percent more heating degree days than we had the previous year. you can probably anticipate your bill is going to be 27 percent higher," Kelly Lady told us.

But there are some things you can do to control your costs.

"For every degree you can turn your thermostat back for 24 hours, you can save three percent on your bill," Kelly Lady said. And get on a budget billing plan.

"So when they're high like this they don't get affected as much as when they pay each month."

Utilities we talked to say they're hearing from more and more customers who want to work out a payment plan because of the unexpectedly high costs. And that's important, because the Cold Weather Rule *won't* keep you from being shut-off.

"We'll work with them the best we can in these hard times," said Austin 8utilities GM Mark Nibaur.

As we told you Saturday, *propane* prices have spiked by more than 40 percent this month.

Governor Dayton has lifted some restrictions on hauling propane in an attempt to help.