The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

January 23, 2014

Cold and costly

Arctic temps take toll on body and wallet

By Meghan Keely and Michael Roknick
Herald Staff Writers

MERCER COUNTY AREA — Experts always advise staying indoors during arctic blasts like the one earlier the month and the current cold snap that is already being blamed for three deaths in Pennsylvania.

But some people’s jobs force them to work outside, no matter the weather.

“We tell the guys to dress in layers and keep their extremities covered,” said Jerry Bowser, general manager of Tri-County Industries in Pine Township. “In the extreme cold we tell them to take care of themselves and if they need to stay in the trucks longer at each stop, we tell them to go ahead.”

Bowser said Tri-County’s trash collectors have heat in their trucks and most of their work requires them to be out in the cold for only short periods of time.

“Now when the bad snow and ice is a factor, we call in the troops,” Bowser said. “We all work together and have extra trucks go out. All employees help out.”

An employee at the Army and Navy Store in Sharon said the store has seen a steady stream of business this winter with no major increases during the cold spells.

“We have it all. Everything someone would need for this cold weather,” said employee Tim Kolat. “Winter boots, scarves, insulated jackets, and everything else.”

And even if you can stay indoors, the frigid weather might rack up a big heating bill.

Tuesday night the spot price for a kilowatt-hour of electricity was 14è cents, about three times the normal rate of 4è to 5 cents a kilowatt-hour.

Short-term natural gas prices also are soaring. The commodity is fetching $4.67 per thousand cubic feet, up nearly 30 percent from a few months ago.

Prices for both natural gas and electricity are expected to remain above anticipated levels as brutally low temperatures are expected to last at least another week.

Businesses and homeowners who entered into contracts for electricity and gas won’t feel the pinch as much because their prices are fixed, said Lee McCracken, president and CEO of Premier Power Solutions LLC, an energy brokerage company based in Grove City.

Those with fixed rates will see higher utility bills simply because they’re consuming more electricity and natural gas to keep warm, but they won’t be as bad off as those without a contract, he added.

“If you haven’t bought contracts for those markets, you’re probably not happy now,’’ McCracken said because the rates they’re paying will fluctuate with the higher costs.

“We tell people all day long the reasons why they need a contract,’’ McCracken said. “But it isn’t until they see their bill that they say, ‘What the hell happened?’ ”