After many Memphis residents dealt with higher utility bills during the recent payment cycle, a number of complaints were aired through social media and other platforms and one citizen even took upon themselves to attend the August 1st City Council meeting.
The board of aldermen addressed concerns related to the utility costs as well as public information regarding municipal utilities.
“I saw this blowing up on Facebook, so before the meeting I took a moment to reach out to other area providers to compare rates,” said Alderman Jenny Aldridge. “My electric bill was $316 this month in the city, and it would have been $380 outside of the city. While it wasn’t as big a difference, my water bill would have been higher as well.”
The alderman made the comments in support of the council’s efforts to explain that the higher utility bills weren’t an actual reflection of rising rates, but simply of increased usage that could be attributed to a hot, dry end of June and beginning of July.
“Customers need to pay close attention to the kilowatt usage,” said Utility Superintendent Stacy Alexander. “If customers are concerned about usage, we would be happy to review the numbers and discuss their options to monitor the situation.”
Alderman Jobe Justice noted that usage can be curtailed through improvements related to the residence such as added insulation or better doors and windows as well as more efficient appliances and heating and cooling systems.
Citizen concerns then turned to accessibility of information as well as public relations as related to the utility concerns of constituents.
The ECA charge on customers’ bills was questioned, with the citizen pointing out that she was unable to receive an explanation of the bill item when questioning city hall.
The council explained that the Energy Cost Adjustment, or ECA is not a new bill item and has been in place for several years. The ECA is the difference between the city’s base rate per kilowatt hour compared to the actual cost of the power purchased by the city for its customers.
“Basically it is a mechanism that allows the city to pass along the actual cost of the power to the customer,” said Alderman Chris Feeney. “The base rate has remained the same for several years, so the ECA has increased, corresponding with the rise on the price of electricity purchased on the open market for resale to the local customers.”
For the billing cycle from mid June to mid July which was reflected on the August bills, the ECA was roughly 3.6 cents, bringing the kWh rate up from the standard 11.43 cents to roughly 15 cents. During the previous billing cycle the ECA had been roughly 2.9 cents per kWh, which on an average 2,000 kWh bill would equate to roughly a $14 increase.
The council agreed that the topic can be confusing for utility customers, and while it has been explained a number of times in the past, should continue to be part of information more regularly shared with customers.
The board discussed options including adding more definition on the monthly bills and creating wall posters or other media that can be readily displayed at city hall.
The city is also considering options to adjust the billing platform for electric customers. Currently there is an availability charge of just $7.51 for all customers, which includes the first 50 kWh. It has been proposed to raise the availability charge to $15, which would not include the first 50 kWh.