Rising utility prices distress students

There seems to be no relief in sight for Tallahassee residents. In addition to soaring gas prices, utility bills are rising as well.

The City of Tallahassee utility company enacted a price increase for natural gas and electric utilities on Oct. 1. The City of Tallahassee is responsible for providing all utilities, including electric, water, sewer, natural gas and solid waste services.

Lee Jones, energy auditor for the City of Tallahassee, explained the reasoning behind the increases. Jones said that on the electricity bill, the overall charge to customers has two components: a fuel charge and an energy charge.

The energy charge, which did not rise, is the cost of overhead fees. It includes the costs of operating and maintaining the system.

The fuel charge is the exact cost of fuel burned by the City of Tallahassee to provide electricity. The fuel cost went up a penny and a half, so adding the fuel charge to the total cost equates a 15 percent total increase for residential customers.

Jones said the fuel charge is a “direct pass-through” to customers. Since the price of natural gas has increased nation-wide, it costs the city more to obtain the gas, and this increase filters down to customers.

“At wholesale level, the average cost of gas in the ’90s was two-three dollars. Now it’s 11-14 dollars,” Jones said.

Jones detailed reasons for the average cost increase.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast region where much of the nation’s oil supply is produced. Oil refineries and pipelines were hit, which led to a restriction of the oil supply.

However, gas prices were rising before the hurricanes.

In what boils down to a supply and demand issue, more people were demanding natural gas, but less gas was being produced. When the demand for gas outpaces the supply of gas, prices increase.

And more changes may be in store.

“Every six months an assessment is made to determine whether rates need to be adjusted, so it is likely there will be some sort of change in April,” said David Byrne, City of Tallahassee director of energy services.

Although Byrne did not say prices would necessarily increase, Milburn Duverma, a 20-year-old sophomore from Orlando, said his utility bills have increased dramatically.

“Me and my brother pay like $175. At first it was $120- $125,” Duverma said.

Sabra Hickman said her utility bills have “gone up at least $40.” Hickman, 19, a sophomore from Denver, said she plans to conserve in two main areas: light and water. She said she has already begun using her dishwasher more instead of washing dishes by hand.

If students want to pay the same price, they must use less energy. Both Byrne and Jones said that two-thirds of all energy is consumed through heating and air conditioning.

Jones advised, “Don’t cool below 78 degrees when in the home. Turn the thermostat up five degrees whenever you’re not there.”

Byrnes also offered conservation advice. “Make sure lights are off when not in the building.” When setting the thermostat in the winter months, “68 degrees is reasonable,” Byrnes said.

For more energy conservation tips, students are encouraged to visit http://www.talgov.com. Tips are provided specifically for the summer and winter months and for those who live in apartments. There is also a page titled “Student Guide to Utilities.”

Myra Tucker, 20, a junior health science student from Atlanta, has a conservation tip of her own.

“Looks like we gon’ be turning on some fans this year,” Tucker said.

Contact Driadonna Roland at famuannews@hotmail.com