Piedmont utility customers getting temporary break in heating costs
by Laura Gaddy
Feb 05, 2014 | 4560 views |  0 comments | 84 84 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PIEDMONT — The city is charging utility customers less money for gas and electricity this month to give them a break in the cost of heating their homes and businesses.

Piedmont Mayor Bill Baker told City Council members Tuesday night that the reduction was applied utility bills that went out Feb. 1. He said the city might also decide to extend the temporary rate cut to customers next month.

"If we can give them a break and still pay our bills, my feeling is we still need to do that," Baker said. "It's been a hard winter, it's been a cold winter."

The city supplies both electricity and gas to customers. It pays suppliers for the commodities and resells them to people who live in the city.

Piedmont gave its residential power customers a 10 percent discount this month and it gave its residential gas customers a 12 to 17 percent discount, officials said. Commercial customers will be getting a lesser discount, officials said.

Even with the discount, residents’ bills are higher than usual because they have used more energy to heat their homes during recent cold snaps, officials said.

Jesse McKnight, superintendent of the city's Water, Gas and Sewer Department, said gas customers’ discount, like their regular rate fee, fluctuates based on usage. Those customers who use more of the utility get a better rate, he said.

Using one unidentified customer's bill as an example, McKnight said the discount brought that bill down from $740 to $609.

Casey Ponder, superintendent of the Electrical Department, said at least one resident has used eight times as much energy than the average during the most recent billing cycle.

"It’s unreal some of the numbers we've seen come in," Ponder said.

He and McKnight were consulted on the decision to reduce the rates. Utilities are sold in units, and when the city is selling more units, it can afford to give residents a break.

"The more they spin the meter, you can give them a discount," Ponder said.

He likened it to big-box chain stores who make their profits through bulk sales.

The city may be giving residents and businesses a break on their electricity bills, but the city's suppliers aren’t as lenient. The city of Piedmont, which purchases power in bulk from the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority, is past due on its bill, officials said.

The city is behind on its payment to that supplier by $331,395, and it will have to pay 9 percent interest on that amount.

Being behind on a power bill is nothing new for the city. Officials say the municipality struggles to make the payment each year at this time because the city coffers dwindle in the fall as revenue from property tax slack off.

They are always able to make the payment as that revenue picks up, they said.

"We're going to pay it," Baker said. "We owe a little bit of money ... we still wanted to give the residents a little bit of a break if we could.”

In other business:

— Organic farmer Roxanna Sims asked the city to provide soil and collection services to help her and partner Dave Clark establish an organic learning farm downtown. Council members said they would try to help, but it depends on what the law permits.

— Voted to add a streetlight in the Westwood subdivision.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.
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