In his column last week, Flyer senior editor John Branston pointed out two intriguing headlines. The first was from the Detroit News: "Milder weather cuts heating bills." The second, from the Nashville Tennessean, was similar: "Natural gas bills to shrink as utility cuts rates again."
Intrigued, I did a search of newspapers around the country and found the same news elsewhere. To name just a few: a 21 percent rate decrease in Denver; lowered rates from Ohio's two largest natural gas providers; lower rates in North Carolina -- all because of milder weather and/or lower natural gas prices.
So what gives here in Memphis? After being hit with "sticker shock" in December (double my November bill), I lowered my thermostat for January (one of the mildest on record), and yet my January MLGW bill was just as high as December's.
Here's another puzzler: Half of a small duplex (about 800 square feet) that my wife and I own sat empty in January. We turned the thermostat down to 55 degrees. The MLGW bill for that unit was $264, as high as it was for December, when it was occupied.
It's become a ritual in the Flyer office: When the utility bills arrive, we try to outdo each other with amazing MLGW stories. It's like utility-bill poker:
"I was gone on vacation for two weeks with the heat turned off, and my bill is still 50 percent higher."
"Oh yeah? Well, I'll see your 50 percent increase and raise you another 20 percent -- and you can see your breath in my apartment."
May I suggest that the City Council make at least a token effort to get to the bottom of the most talked-about issue in Memphis. High utility bills are devastating the poor and stretching middle-class budgets to the breaking point. Businesses are losing profit margins. People are upset. Meanwhile, all around the country, utilities are lowering rates. Can we not ask Joseph Lee and his well-paid execs to stroll over to council chambers and proffer an explanation as to why Memphis' publicly owned utility cannot do the same?
It's called turning up the heat, folks. And in this case, it's a good idea.
Bruce VanWyngarden, Editor