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Increased usage leading to higher bills for MED customers

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MASSENA — An increase in the number of customers heating their homes with electricity has led to an increase in the amount of energy the Massena Electric Department must purchase to meet the demand of its users.

That, in turn, has led to increase in the bills many MED customers are receiving.

To meet customer demand, MED Treasurer Jeffrey M. Dobbins said, MED had to purchase 25,000 megawatt hours in December.

“That’s something we’ve never had to do before,” he said.

“They’re seeing their usage go up and in turn we’re seeing the amount of power we have to purchase go up,” MED Superintendent Andrew J. McMahon said.

Mr. Dobbins said MED receives an allocation of low-cost hydropower each month, with any usage above that having to be purchased on the open market at a much higher rate.

In the end, though, Mr. Dobbins said, MED customers still are receiving their power for significantly less than customers of National Grid.

He said National Grid customers pay 14 to 18 cents per kilowatt hour, while MED customers are paying 5 to 7 cents per kilowatt hour.

He said the average residential customer not using electricity to heat his or her home uses about 1,100 kilowatt hours of power. In December, that would have meant a bill of $55 versus a bill of $75.61 this month. For customers using electricity to heat their homes, usage is more in the range of 3,000 kilowatt hours, Mr. Dobbins said. That would have led to a December bill of $142. That same usage this month would have resulted in a bill of $197.

Basically, Mr. Dobbins said, the charge per kilowatt hour has increased from 5.5 cents to 6.5 cents.

Mr. Dobbins said it’s not hard to tell which customers are using electricity to heat their homes. “Once you see someone with 3,000 kilowatt hours (a month), you know they’re using some sort of electric heat,” he said, noting that in December of 2012 there were 728 such customers. That number rose to 1,123 customers in December 2013 and has climbed to 1,227 customers this month.

When asked if there was a chance MED could see its allocation of low-cost power increased, Mr. McMahon said that is not a possibility.

“Since we can’t get another block of low-cost power for reasons other than economic development, we’ve been trying to emphasize energy efficiency,” he said. “We have programs for renters, businesses, landlords and individual property owners. As people use more energy in their homes, we want them to take a step back and look at how they’re using their energy.”

Mr. Dobbins said the average MED customer is using 50 kilowatt hours more of power now than at this time last year.

“We have 8,000 customers, and if every customer is using 50 kilowatts more, that’s 400,000 kilowatts per month, and that’s just residential customers,” Mr. Dobbins said.

Increased energy use isn’t limited to MED customers.

“The thing is because of the polar vortex, people are using more energy to heat their homes,” Mr. McMahon said. “In the National Grid territory, gas, propane and wood pellet bills are going up, and we’re seeing that, too.”

Noting that December energy costs are reflected in January’s bills, Mr. Dobbins said customers also can expect higher than normal bills in February.

To help alleviate some of the costs, Mr. McMahon said, MED has distributed more than 400 weatherization kits to low-income customers. The kits include, among other things, outlet covers and door strips to help reduce drafts. “Just a little leak in your home on cold days, especially cold, windy days, can really make a difference,” he said.

“If people would take advantage of our energy efficiency programs, their bills could start coming down,” he said.

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