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Why there’s ‘a lot to be very concerned about’ with electricity prices this summer: Energy expert

In this article:
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Mark Wolfe, executive director at the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, shares tips on how Americans can save on electricity and utility bills this summer amid record high temperatures and rising energy prices.

Video transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

DAVE BRIGGS: More than 100 million Americans under some form of heat wave or advisory this week. Chicago and Denver among the cities that are seeing triple digit temperatures. And making matters worse for the American consumer is the cost of keeping your home cool spiking with the thermometer. We have some ways to save some money this summer.

Mark Wolfe is the executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association. He joins us now. It's good to see you, Mark. Thanks for being here. Before we get to those tips, just talk about how dangerous a combination that is with energy prices up 34% in a year, and a heat wave across the country.

MARK WOLFE: Well, I think the way to think about this is that a couple of things are going on that are all pretty bad. Rising temperatures, it's very hot, there are public health concerns. So for example, if you're outside, and you're elderly, and it's 105 degrees, you can have a heart attack. You can get very sick.

If you're at home and you don't have air conditioning, or you don't turn it on, your body doesn't adjust to rising temperatures, you can also get very sick. So there are public health issues to be worried about. And the other issue, of course, is the cost. It's not just the price of electricity. It's the amount you use.

So the combination we're estimating that instead of being about $440 to heat-- I'm sorry, to cool your home this summer, it's more likely to be about 540, to $550 to cool your home this summer. So you're looking at a much higher cost of cooling. And part of it's being driven by the rise in natural gas prices, which is being driven by the recovering economy, as well as increased demand in western Europe because we're trying to cut back on purchases of Russian gas.

So a lot of different factors are going into the cost of your electric bill this summer. So there's a lot to be very concerned about. And then, of course, the question is as you started this conversation is, what can you do as a consumer? You can't stop the war. You can't change the temperature. But you can take very practical measures to cut back on the amount of electricity you use. The less electricity you use, the lower your bill.

So let me give you a couple of examples of ways that you can reduce your bill this summer. And some of it's very obvious, except it takes some time to think about how to implement them in your normal day to day life. So first is increasing, or improving, the management of the way you use electricity. Make sure to clean the filter, or the filters in your air conditioning units. Another one is to look at the temperature you use to cool your home.

So right now, say you have it at 72 degrees. You could raise it to 74 or 76, you might be able to lower the bill by 10%. Think of every which way you can lower your consumption. Look for leaks in the house and plug those in. Use shades on your windows. And as you make investments in reduction, those investments are even more valuable now because for every unit of electricity less you use, that unit is now more expensive.

So again, you save on your electric bill. So for example, install overhead fans. Install more efficient air conditioners. All those together can help you save maybe 20% on your electric bill and will make quite a difference this summer. It's not just, of course, saving electricity. There are some external benefits. It helps the environment.

The less electricity we use, the better for the environment. It also reduces pressure in Europe in terms of natural gas usage, and ultimately helps to reduce income to the Soviet-- I'm sorry, to Russia, which also is an improvement. I mean, it's hard to think globally. But these things all are important.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: Mark, I do want to ask you, because a lot of people are already behind on the utility bills because they have had to make that tough decision between what they're going to spend on when they do have inflation really biting into everything. An estimated $22 billion in late utility bills as we've seen these energy prices spike. What advice do you have for people who are already behind on their utilities, how they can sort of manage this or perhaps talk to their providers to try and ease some of that burden?

MARK WOLFE: Oh, it's a terrible situation. These are almost record utility bills in terms of arrearages. Normally, it's about $12 billion that people are behind on. Now we're looking at 22 billion. There are a number of things you should do if you're behind on your bill. First, call your utility. Tell them you're trying to work out a payment plan. See if there's anything can do to prevent a shut off if you're that far behind.

The other thing to do is see what federal aid is available. Congress provided extra funding under the last stimulus bill, $4 and 1/2 billion to states to help families pay off arrearages. They also provided extra money in the rental assistance bill. So ask the utility how to apply for energy assistance or look for your local community action agency. Both will help you figure out how to apply for assistance.

Some states are using these funds to specifically pay off bad debt and help get people back on target with the utilities. Other utilities are offering forgiveness plans, every which way to help families. Because part of the reason that the amount owed went up so much was it was a very cold winter. So winter heating bills went up. We're now looking at possibly a very hot summer. It's going to make it even harder for people to pay back their bills.

And so one way to think about this is, what types of services are available, how to use those services, and then I think at the end of the day, also to ask a utility about what they call a levelized billing plan, where they take your average bill each month and the average it out over the course of a year and hopefully get you a lowered monthly payment.

But the underlying problem is that energy prices are just very high right now. And at this point, it looks like they're going to stay that way for at least the foreseeable year. So everything we do to reduce your consumption will pay benefits.

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