With a string of daytime temperatures that barely crept above zero and below-zero readings at night, Colorado Springs Utilities customers have been cranking up their furnaces, but not setting usage records.
From Dec. 4 through Sunday, natural gas consumption was up 77 percent, and residential and business electric usage increased by 23 percent, said Dave Grossman, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities.
"We've seen a definite increase in electric usage and gas consumption for what's typical during this time in December," Utilities spokesman Steve Berry said. "But it's not surprising when you consider how cold it has been for so many days."
And there may be sticker shock when the bills come, but Grossman said it's impossible to estimate an average percentage increase this early in the season.
"There's so many variables that go into people's bills and the total amounts, depending on the size of their homes, the age and efficiency of their furnaces, how much they turn down their thermostats," Grossman said.
Natural gas consumption goes up during winter months because that's what heats homes, while electricity powers the fans in the furnaces that push warm air into the vents.
Even with such a marked rise in consumption, Grossman said no records have been broken, and utilities officials do not expect to see a strain on resources. Safeguards are in place to meet demand, he said.
"We don't expect an impact, even if the weather keeps up like this. We have lots of suppliers of natural gas that can help us make up the difference, and we have natural gas in storage," Grossman said.
In more extreme circumstances, a propane air mixture plant in Marksheffel Road can help supplement the natural gas supply.
Berry said November was mild in comparison to the first week of December, but this is not the first time drastic weather changes have played a role in utilities fluctuations.
"In December of 2011 and 2012, Colorado Springs had really cold stretches for a week or so. People got their bills in January and they were understandably upset," Berry said. "Hopefully the weather will warm up soon and they won't have to worry so much about their bills."
So far, Utilities has not received requests for financial assistance to pay bills, but that may change as the winter rolls on.
"The best residents can do is to make sure their windows and doors are properly closed with weather stripping, that their heaters and furnaces are efficient and working properly, that they turn down the temperature in their homes when they're not going to be there," Berry said. "Preventive measures such as caulking around doors and windows to keep cold air out and warm air in can really help in the long run."