Bloomington residents have noticed their energy bills significantly increasing over the past winter months. Energy consumption has increased for many due to cold weather and more time at home during the pandemic, Duke Energy spokesperson Lew Middleton said.
“Suddenly you're there all day, 24 hours a day, your energy usage is going to go up,” Middleton said.
In the “Bloomington, IN - What’s Going On?” Facebook group, a post saying Duke raised its rates garnered over 380 comments. Many Bloomington residents said they saw their energy bills rise and were confused by the sudden increase, especially during the pandemic when many are experiencing financial hardships.
Middleton said rates did not increase during the past few winter months. There was a general rate increase in July 2020, he said. Duke Energy Indiana said the increase is to improve reliability and to better serve more customers, including adding new power lines and substations.
Bloomington resident Serene Coons said her last few energy bills have jumped to about $300 per month. After moving into a new apartment last July, she said her bills were around $100 and never more than $150.
She said her bills total to $600 to $700 for 2 months at a time. She said she has to pay about $300 minimum to keep her energy on.
“It puts a strain on me,” Coons said. “I have kids. I have a family. I have to pay it.”
Coons said she has lived in Bloomington for 11 years and has never seen her energy bills this expensive. In past winters, she said her bill was around $200 per month.
When calling Duke, she said she told a representative her situation and Duke told her they were going to send a worker to read her meter the following Monday and call her again with an update. She said she did not see anyone from Duke in her area and did not receive word back from them.
“I told him that they've taken advantage of people with this time,” Coons said. “They claim that they come out and they look at the meter, which I don't think they do.”
Coons said she and her family have tried to pay attention to their energy consumption and made an effort to decrease their energy-consuming habits, such as turning down the thermostat and shutting off the lights. She said she still receives consistently high bills despite making efforts to lower them.
Smart meters have been installed for virtually all Duke customers, Middleton said. Smart meters send energy consumption data digitally and do not require workers to check the meter, he said.
Some customers are not as aware of how much energy they use as they think they are, Middleton said. Since customers use energy before they pay for it, he said it’s difficult to track how much energy is consumed for certain reasons.
Middleton said customers can track how many kilowatt-hours of energy is used and compare that month-to-month. The data can also be correlated with the weather and changes in habit, he said.
“It takes some diligence on the part of the customer,” Middleton said. “But it can be done, and many times it pays off.”
Bloomington resident Rhonda Fair said her bill increased by over $100 since winter began. In February, she said she owed $397 for two months which would normally be her total for four non-winter months of energy bills.
“I go to work. My kids go to school five days a week. We're not here more than normal,” Fair said. “I don't understand my electric bill.”
As a single mother of two, Fair said it’s financially difficult for her bills to double without notice. After her first expensive bill, she said she and her children made a considerable effort to decrease her energy use, such as turning off lights and the TV, but her bill was $2 more the next month.
“My bill was more, even though I started paying attention,” Fair said.
Like Coons, Fair said Duke told her they would send a worker out to reread her meter but she never heard back.
Middleton said there are some ways people can lower their bills, such as decreasing the room temperature and wearing more clothes, checking if furnace filters are clean regularly and turning on ceiling fans in a clockwise motion to push warm air down.
If a customer needs assistance paying their bill, Middleton said it is best to call Duke and speak with a customer service specialist as soon as possible. He said the representative can offer different plans and more time to pay a bill.
If you need to contact Duke about your energy bill, call 1-800-521-2232.