JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Many of us dread getting our utility bill in the mail and, this month, the sting might be even worse for Jacksonville residents.
JEA customers, on average, are paying significantly more than usual, with some bills as much as hundreds of dollars higher, thanks to Mother Nature.
Temperatures so far this winter have been colder than average, meaning many residents are using more heat and electric bills are spiking.
Utility companies said they’re seeing a high demand due to several days of freezing temperatures, and tonight will be another cold one.
JEA customer Johnny Holmes said he got a shock when he opened his electric bill this month. It's normally $70 to $80, but this month it was $350.
“It hurts. It hurts pretty bad on your pocket,” Holmes said. “I am a retiree, but you know that won’t cut it.”
Holmes is working side jobs to make ends meet, and he’s not alone after unusually cold temperatures had heaters working overtime in what’s been Northeast Florida’s coldest winter since 2010.
“The difference people are seeing in their bills is the weather,” JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce said.
Boyce said many utility customers are seeing bills 40 percent to 50 percent higher than usual.
She said heating and air conditioning units account for about half of a home’s energy usage. Hot water heaters also use a big chunk of power.
“Even if you kept your thermostat at 67 or 68 degrees, you are still going to see a higher bill, because it was just plain cold,” Boyce said. “Think about the days we had the rain and the sleet and the very cold weather.”
Heating experts said you should also use a programmable thermostat, make sure you change your filters regularly and maintain your units before a big freeze.
“You want to make sure that your fan blades are free of any objects,” said Mirza Pilakovic of Bold City Heating and Air.
Boyce said that, despite the big increase in wattage, the utility is prepared for it every winter, and the system is able to handle it.
If you can’t pay your utility bill right away, call JEA to request an extension or ask about a payment plan.
To avoid major fluctuations in your bill, you can sign up for JEA's “My Budget” program, which averages your last 12 bills to come up with a payment plan that keeps your monthly bill about the same each time.
And if all else fails, ask for help. There are nonprofits that can help the needy pay their bills.
Customers can call the United Way at 211 and request assistance.
News4Jax tried to get information from Florida Power & Light, which serves parts of Northeast Florida, about potential bill spikes its customers are seeing, but we have not heard back from that utility.