JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The next time you get your electric bill, don’t be surprised to find out you owe more money.
Frigid nighttime temperatures are forcing a lot of people to run their home heating system for long periods of time, which causes the electric bill to go up drastically.
Chief Meteorologist John Gaughan said temperatures will drop into the 20s Wednesday night, and a hard freeze warning will be in effect from midnight until Thursday morning.
It will be cold enough in the Jacksonville area to keep that heater running overnight. But the longer it runs, the higher your electric bill.
"My bill is usually around $190," JEA customer Mae McCoy said. "But when it got cold, it raised up (to) nearly $400."
Joan Jones, who is on a fixed income, said her bill jumped from an average of $200 to more than $400.
“It’s gone up like $250," said Jones, a JEA customer. "It is hard because I’m on a pension.”
JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce said there is a direct correlation between cold temperatures and the cost of energy used to heat homes and businesses.
“What we have seen are bills (that) people are getting right now are 30 to 40 percent, on average, higher. We have also seen some go up as high as 50 percent," Boyce said. "It depends on the size of the house and how energy efficient it is.”
Right now, colder weather has JEA cranking out more electricity, and JEA is meeting the high demand.
Wednesday morning, JEA put out 230 megawatts of electricity for Jacksonville customers. On Thursday, that number is expected to jump to around 2,925 megawatts.
Should that happen, it would break a record for the year, which was 2,908 megawatts produced in the beginning of the month when it got bitterly cold.
“We want you to be safe and comfortable," Boyce said. "Just understand, the higher you kick up that thermostat, the more energy you’re going to use.”
Which translates to higher electric bills for customers like McCoy.
“I need heat," she said. "It’s going to be cold, so I have no choice but to pay it.”
While News4Jax was inside the JEA bill pay area on Wednesday, one woman said her electric bill jumped to more than $700.
Actions customers can take to lower electric bills
So how do you keep heating costs down or prevent your electricity from being turned off if you're having financial difficulties?
JEA advised that there are several steps customers can take to lower their bills.
First, keep the thermostat set at 67 degrees.
"Of course, you can supplement that by dressing appropriately, having a blanket and even using a space heater," Boyce said. "But make sure you use it carefully."
When you first wake up in the morning, avoid turning up the thermostat more than 5 degrees all at once because it causes your auxiliary heat to kick on.
"That is 30 percent more expensive to run because it's a burst of hot energy," Boyce said. "If you are going to raise your thermostat, only do it 1 to 2 degrees at a time."
When your bill is due and you need more time to pay, JEA said it’s willing to work with its customers.
“If you’re bill is due on a Monday, but you don’t get paid until Friday, you don’t have to talk to a person," Boyce said. "You can go online or call and use the automated system and ask for an extension.”
JEA also offers payment arrangements for people who can’t pay the entire bill at once.
“But again, you need to be honest with us and you need to honor those because, if you do not make the arrangement when your bill comes around, you will be disconnected for non-pay,” Boyce said.
If you live in a home with cold air that seeps under the window or door, JEA said, you can put something down to keep that air from coming in. The longer that cold air comes in, the longer your heater will continue to run.