Cold temps raise concerns about energy-bill transparency

Across Tennessee, energy bills can eat up more than 20% of household income. More than six percent is considered high for the United States.

Some watchdog groups think Tennesseans are getting snowed, and it has nothing to do with the weather.

It’s the first winter since the Tennessee Valley Authority announced a new Grid Access Charge, and local power companies can choose whether to pass the fees on to customers. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy reviewed bills from more than 100 utility providers in the TVA service territory and found that at least 85% don’t list the fixed fees on residential electric bills.

Laura Humphrey, an energy-policy associate with SACE, said residents should take a closer look at their power bills rather than assume an increase is related to colder temperatures.

“The first thing I would want is them to check their bill,” she said, “and see if it’s visible or if it’s hidden in the kilowatt hours.”
SACE and other groups have launched a campaign called ‘Let Me See the Fee’ to urge greater transparency on utility bills. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, Tennesseans spend an average of 12.5% of their income on electricity, one of the highest energy burdens in the country.

The groups teaming up with SACE for ‘Let Me See the Fee’ include Conservatives for Energy Freedom, the NAACP, the Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens and Energy Alabama. Jimmie Garland Sr., vice president for the Tennessee state NAACP chapter, said he is concerned that large companies aren’t paying their fair share.

“They are raising the rates on the residents, but they are giving these businesses tax breaks at the expense of those that are bound to live here in Clarksville, or the state of Tennessee, or the region,” he said. “I call it hostage taking.”

At the Fort Campbell Army base, thousands of military families are impacted by the surge in utility rates that can absorb up to 18% of their household income.

Humphrey added that the increase would affect the state’s most vulnerable residents this winter.

“Some people are having to make hard choices about whether they should buy medications, whether they should skimp on other bills and maybe quality food, health care, things like that,” she said. “So we want the fixed fee to be low, so people can control the bill and keep it low.”

Some power companies have made efforts to absorb the TVA increase rather than passing it on to their customers. More information about ‘Let Me See the Fee’ is on the SACE website.