April 2021

Dustin Tripp

Although your Cooperative passed along significant rate reductions in January of this year, many Cooperative members recently received higher than expected electricity bills for electricity consumed during the month of February due to the extremely cold, winter storm that blanketed our region with ice and snow that ranged from 4 – 6 inches (possibly more in some areas) that began on Valentine’s Day.  In addition to average daily temperatures in single digits, gusting winds of up to 25 mph forced wind chills well below zero and caused significant snow drifting.

During the winter season, the utility industry utilizes an index called “Heating Degree Days (HDD)” to determine the relative amount of electric energy required for residential and commercial heating systems.  This index compares the average daily temperature to a standard set point of 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  For example, if the average daily temperature in one day is 30 degrees, the HDD index value for that day is 65 minus 30 which equals 35.  This index is tabulated daily and provides a good indication of the relative electric energy requirements for residential and commercial heating systems for a particular month.  As the HDD index increases, the need for additional energy required for heating systems also increases.  For the month of February 2021, this HDD index value was 1,021 which was 29% higher than February 2020 and 37% higher than February 2019.  This index indicates that heating systems had to operate at significantly higher levels to maintain the inside temperatures and therefore consumed more energy.

While the HDD index that is tabulated over a month period is a good relative indicator of the amount of energy required by heating systems for that particular month, it doesn’t tell the whole story.  When the temperatures plummet to the extent they did during the week of February 15th, the efficiency of heating systems can drop significantly and often times, the primary source of heat is unable to keep up which results in additional emergency/backup heating systems to operate.  For example, many homes today have high-efficiency air source heat pumps with electric resistance emergency/backup heat.  As the temperature begins dropping below 40 degrees, the air source heat pump efficiency begins to decrease resulting in more energy being consumed to heat the space.  As the temperature drops to the levels we experienced in February, the air source heat pump efficiency decreases drastically and often times, the electric resistance emergency/backup heat must run to heat the space.  While electric resistance emergency/backup heat is necessary to maintain heating supply, the efficiency of these systems is low compared to high-efficiency air source heat pumps.  The use of emergency/backup heating systems for an extended period of time can cause the energy consumption of a residence or commercial business to increase significantly.

While Southern Illinois was certainly experiencing a severe cold winter storm with high electrical demand, fortunately the Midwest region had sufficient energy capacity to support the demand for electricity and did not encounter the tragic problems that occurred in Texas.  The historic winter storm that swept across Texas resulted in numerous generating unit outages which led to rolling blackouts, loss of electricity and heat in numerous regions and the tragic loss of life.  In addition, many residents in Texas are now facing electricity bills in the multiple thousands of dollars for one month’s energy consumption.  While the events that led to this electrical grid failure in Texas will be investigated well into the future, one thing remains perfectly clear – our nation and its people deserve and depend upon a reliable and affordable electric supply that is paramount for the safety and success of our nation.  As the U.S. energy infrastructure continues to transform, the demand for electricity continues to increase and the electrification of the transportation sector continues to evolve, policy and regulatory framework must be continually focused on the ability to deliver reliable energy at affordable prices. 

We’ll see you next month and as always, “We’ll keep the lights on for you.”