High Utility Bills Blamed on COVID-19, Climate Change

A woman sits at a kitchen table with a laptop while reviewing scattered bills and documents.

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Home electricity use has moved higher since the start of the pandemic as people have spent more time at home. Extreme weather events driven by climate change have also led to higher utility bills in 2021, according to a study by Sense, a home energy management resource. Sense analyzed energy data on more than 10,000 homes for its analysis. Researchers note that these trends could be here to stay.

In 2020, median household electricity usage increased 8.2% compared to 2019, but it marginally declined in 2021, according to Sense data. Between April and October, the period of peak electricity usage across the country, the average household paid $55 more in 2020 and again in 2021 than in 2019, the study shows.

Climate Change Having Big Impact

“While [COVID-19] has had lasting impacts, extreme weather has had far bigger effects on energy costs around different regions of the country,” researchers note. “Whether it’s a heat dome in the typically temperate Northwest or an ice storm in the middle of a mild Texas winter, extreme weather has a big impact on electricity usage.”

For example, during the Texas ice storm in February 2021, homes that didn’t lose power saw a 76.9% increase in average daily usage compared with the rest of the winter; a peak increase of 144.9% occurred on Feb. 16. Many Texas residents saw jumps in their electricity rates that led to steep cost increases.

Likewise, in another headline-making 2021 climate event: The heat dome that enveloped the Northwest from June to August led to a 14.5% spike in average daily consumption compared to the same three months in 2020, researchers found. The high temperatures prompted a $50 increase, on average, in electricity bills in Oregon and Washington.

Rising Costs Hit Homeowners

Nearly half of U.S. households who heat their homes with natural gas can expect higher bills this winter—an average of 30% higher compared with last year, the federal Energy Information Administration said this fall. It could be even higher: If the winter is 10% colder than average, homeowners can expect heating bills that top 50% higher than a year ago.

Even if the winter is 10% warmer than average, heating bills are still expected to be 22% higher than last year.

Natural gas home heating bills are expected to average $746 from Oct. 1 to March 31. That is up compared to $573 during the same period a year ago, The Wall Street Journal reports.

“We are very concerned about the affordability of heat this winter for all customers, but in particular those who struggle every day to afford their utility services,” Karen Lusson, a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center, told The Wall Street Journal.

In a survey of more than 1,100 homeowners conducted earlier this year, Sense researchers found that nearly half—or 48%—of owners are looking for ways to reduce electricity consumption to help cut those higher costs from climate change. For example, some homeowners are taking steps to better maintain or upgrade their HVAC system, adding insulation, or upgrading their windows.