Why bills increase during cold weather

When winter weather brings colder temperatures, particularly the extreme cold Middle Tennessee has experienced in recent years, members typically notice an increase in their electric bills even if their energy habits have remained the same. We understand that this can be a confusing situation  and can have a significant impact on your budget. 

The simple answer is that electric bills are higher during cold weather because members use more electricity to heat their homes when outdoor temperatures plunge. Heating and cooling can account for more than half of a single-family home’s energy use, especially during extreme weather events. When temperatures drop, running the heating system for longer periods of time will result in a higher bill --- even if you don’t adjust the temperature on your thermostat. 

The greater the difference between the outside temperature and the temperature on your thermostat, the harder your system must work to maintain that indoor temperature. This additional usage will result in a higher electric bill. 


If your home uses a heat pump, as many across our area do, its efficiency begins to decrease when temperatures drop below 40 degrees. To maintain your preferred indoor temperature when it’s cold outside, a heat pump will often have to rely on a secondary source called an auxiliary heat strip. Auxiliary heat, also called emergency heat, uses three times the electricity as a heat pump. 

For more than 85 years, Middle Tennessee Electric has worked to make the lives of our members better. As a not-for-profit electric cooperative, we want to help you save on your energy bills. From free energy audits that pinpoint problem areas in your home to a mobile app to track your energy usage to budget-friendly billing options, MTE offers solutions to fit your lifestyle. 

Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about dealing with high electric bills:

Frequent High Bill Questions

The greater the difference between the outdoor temperature and the temperature of your thermostat setting, the harder your HVAC system must work to maintain indoor temperatures. Heating and cooling account for more than half of a member's electric bill on average. Your HVAC unit runs longer during prolonged periods of cold or hot weather to keep the thermostat’s temperature constant.

To monitor your usage during peak winter or summer temperature periods or at any time, you can create an online account at mte.com/myMTE or download our app, myMTE.

Heat pumps are common in homes throughout the MTE service territory and are very efficient for most of the year. However, during extremely low temperatures, heat pumps frequently switch to auxiliary or emergency heat to help warm the home. When auxiliary or emergency heat is activated, it draws up to three times the amount of electricity.

A malfunctioning HVAC system or water heater, energy-inefficient appliances or poor insulation could lead to higher bills. An increase in remote work and school also raises average daily energy use.

You can also have a direct impact on your energy use and monthly bill by lowering the thermostat to 68 degrees; your heating costs could increase around 3% for every degree above 68. 

Due to inflation and an increase in costs associated with electric infrastructure, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and MTE adjusted the energy-charge portion of rates upward on Oct.1, 2023. Prior to this, MTE hadn’t had a rate increase to benefit our own revenues in 15 years. 

As a not-for-profit organization, Middle Tennessee Electric strives to keep our rates as low as possible for our members. As a result, MTE’s residential rates rank among the lowest in the nation - more than 25% below the national average.

MTE purchases virtually all our power from TVA, and about 80 cents of every dollar collected by MTE is paid to TVA for the power used by our members. The remaining 20 cents is used to operate the cooperative. 

For more information about rates, visit mte.com/Rates

Space heaters can heat small areas for short periods of time, but long-term use can lead to substantial energy consumption and cost. For example, a 1,500-watt space heater operating 12 hours per day will cost nearly $50 per month. If you are interested in additional information related to appliance consumption, visit https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/save-electricity-and-fuel/appliances-and-electronics/estimating-appliance-and-home.

*Please note, this calculator estimates at a higher rate than your cost from MTE.

Gas furnaces typically have electric-powered blowers to help move the hot air through the ductwork. During cold temperatures, gas furnaces run for long periods, meaning those blowers work longer and harder to maintain the desired temperature inside the home. Additionally, many people with gas heat use electric humidifiers during the extreme cold to help compensate for the extremely dry heat gas furnaces supply. This could add to increased energy consumption.

MTE aims to provide value to members by offering convenient options for billing and programs to increase energy efficiency. With MTE's myEnergyPlan program, options like Levelized, Fixed, Prepay and others are designed to fit any lifestyle and budget. Members are also able to select a billing due date with some of these options. MTE recommends the Levelized plan for members to help remove significant fluctuations in your monthly bill caused by extreme weather and high energy usage. Visit mte.com/MyEnergyPlan to select what works best for you. 

MTE has energy assistance funds available to members who financially qualify through local community help agencies. A list of those agencies can be found at mte.com/CommunityEnergyAssistanceAgencies

Our member support team is always available to help members determine their best options. Call 1-877-777-9020 for assistance. 

MTE is constantly and consistently developing new ways and programs to help our members  save money and understand their energy usage habits. Here are some useful site pages to help you learn ways to reduce your monthly bill or its impact on your monthly budget.

Energy Efficiency:
Account Management
  • mte.com/myEnergyPlan - Customize a plan that works with your lifestyle and budget. 
  • mte.com/myMTE – Review your energy consumption analytics to improve your energy habits and home efficiency. You can also pay your bill and report outages.

Other Resources

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