Bitter cold — not NB Power — to blame for skyrocketing power bills, official says

NB Power customers have only to conjure up a memory of that fierce chill in early winter to understand their high power bills, an NB Power official suggests.

Power bill really high? The cold weather probably has something to do with it

An energy analyst with NB Power said the colder it gets, the higher the power bill. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

NB Power customers have only to conjure up a memory of that fierce chill in early winter to understand their high power bills, an NB Power official suggests.

Cold weather means bigger bills, says Brent Lockhart, an energy adviser at the utility.

"It simply is electric heating load," Lockhart said Monday. "The colder it gets outside, the quicker any kind of heat that you put into your house moves to outside."

Shocks were felt around the province after NB Power sent out its most recent bills, and then didn't seem able to explain the high bills when customers complained. 

Some people interviewed by CBC News said their bills had gone up hundreds of dollars even though they hadn't changed their energy-using habits or they'd taken steps to lower usage.

Although they acknowledged the recent rate hike and remembered the incredibly cold December, they still found it hard to believe their bills would jump that much.

But with electric heat, Lockhart said, there's almost a direct correlation between an increase or decrease in outdoor temperature and the amount of heat that's being used.

He said if a household uses 100 kilowatt hours a day, and the next month it's 10 per cent colder outside, the daily usage is going to jump to 110 or 112 kilowatt hours a day.

"We had some pretty severe temperature drops at the end of December, first of January," he said.  

The meters we do have are very reliable.-Brent  Lockhart

"If you're a family of three or four and you're living there for $120 to $160 in the summer, then that's what it takes you to live there in the winter," he said.

"The difference there is heat."

If a power bill goes up between $200 and $400, there is no other explanation but heat, he said. 

As a result, it's important homeowners make sure insulation is up to code and are cautious about behaviour — such as taking long showers — that could add up.

Metres aren't at fault

In April 2017, the Energy and Utilities Board approved a 2.07 per cent increase to NB Power's residential power rates.

Lockhart suggested metres are unlikely to be responsible for high bills.

There are two ways NB Power meters are tested, he said. The first happens when a customer is upset and believes the meter is responsible for a high bill. In such a case, Measurement Canada, which regulates measurement devices, gets involved, takes the meter and tests it.

Metres are also tested at the request of the federal government, which sends NB Power a list for checking.

Brent Lockhart, who is an energy advisor with NB Power, addresses complaints about last month's power bill. 14:03

"They'll send us 1,500 meters and say, 'We want you to test this meter number, this meter number, this meter number," Lockhart said.  

The meters then have to perform to plus or minus three per cent, in order to be deemed accurate by Measurement Canada. In his 12 years of tracking the data, no metres have failed the test.

"The meters we do have are very reliable," said Lockhart.