Danville Feels Effects From Harsh Winter

The colder than average temperatures over the last couple months have been tough for the residents of Danville in more ways than one. As Danville Utilities customers began receiving utility bills for the December and January billing cycle, high bill complaint calls began to ring into our Customer Service Office at a much higher frequency than normal. It is important for all to understand that most of the high bill problems we have seen are not due to utility rates but to the sustained, unusually cold winter weather.

The accompanying graph gives some great perspective on just how cold it stayed for the entire month of January. The graph, derived from temperature data from the KDAN weather station at Danville Regional Airport, highlights temperature ranges by day for January 2010 (shown in dark blue). January 2010 daily temperatures are layered over the average normal temperatures recorded for January (shown in green), record high temperatures by day for January (shown in red), and record low temperatures by day for January (shown in blue). As the graph shows, we had much lower than normal temperatures during the first half of January 2010. During the first half of the month, several days were near record lows. Not shown on the graph are the overcast skies associated with the snow storms and the high winds that we experienced. The overcast skies reduced the incidence of free heating gathered from the sun that often helps heat our homes. The windy days increased indoor/outdoor pressure differences causing more noticeable drafts and even more heat to leak out of our homes at a higher rate.

As many of us know, when outdoor temperatures drop into the 20’s and 30’s and remain low for hours on end (as they did throughout this past December and January), a home’s heating system must work harder and uses much more electricity and/or gas than when temperatures stay within normal ranges. It consequently takes more energy to keep a house’s interior at a constant temperature, even if you set your thermostat as low as 65°. Although the cold temperatures played the largest part in causing utility bills to rise, another factor is Danville’s older housing stock. According to the most recent Census, 87.8 percent of the houses in Danville were built before 1980, which is the year that is widely regarded by the construction industry in which better insulation techniques began to be used when building new homes. This means that the majority of homes in the City do not have adequate insulation to stand up to the recent frigid temperatures. Couple that with the older, inefficient heating systems being used to warm most of the same homes that have insufficient insulation and unfortunately when cold weather hits for a sustained period of time, all of these factors add up to a recipe for high bills.

There is no better evidence to prove the fact that colder temperatures lead to higher utility bills than Danville Utilities’ latest energy consumption statistics. When comparing current statistics to last year at this time (January 2009 versus January 2010), system-wide natural gas usage was up 38.6% and electricity usage increased 11.9%. Even more telling is the comparison between the consumption statistics of December 2009 through January 2010 compared with previous months: system-wide natural gas usage was up 85.7% and electricity usage increased 18.1% in December and January.

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