Fluctuating electric bill puts stress on small business in Oak Ridge

Investigations

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — When the temperature drops, power bills for both homes and businesses rise. That’s especially true if the main source of heat is electricity.

The Melon Man Produce store in Oak Ridge has seen its recent power bills fluctuate wildly. Manager Shane Collier shared his experience with recent erratic electric bills and then soon discovered why the bills were wandering.

Collier straightened up the jams and jelly jars at the store he operates with his father. Melon Man Produce has been in business since October 2019. The building the store sits in dates back to the late-1960s.

Collier said he complained to the electric company about his bill last October. He said technicians who came to examine the meter said it was running slow and would be replaced “soon,” but he didn’t think it would take four months.

Inside the business, the heating system was turned off the day we visited. A couple of electric space heaters were being used to raise the interior temperature a little. The store’s power bill has been swinging up and down since October. At one time it was stable.

“They have been for the most part $500. But we got a bill in October and the bill was almost $1,200,” Collier said.

Shane showed us the store’s electric bills dating back to the fall. October was $1,153.

The $1,100 bill in October dropped to $502 in November and even lower in December to $428. It rose $90 in January to $518 but then spiked in February to $1,380.

“The electric company said that they were going to fix the meter because they said the meter was running behind,” Collier said. “We thought everything was OK. The bill went back to normal. Then it spiked up to almost $1,400.

“In the summertime, we were running air conditioning 24/7, it didn’t get up above $600. … Right now in the slow season. We run U-Haul throughout the winter because produce is slow in the winter time.”

The store’s franchise association with U-Haul Rentals is helping to keep the financial bottom line just above water.

“We’re a small, really small business. We’re not trying to get rich off of anybody. It’s sad that this is a problem,” he said.

At the back of the building, technicians installed a new electric meter a few days ago. Collier believes more electrical work around the building needs to be done as well.

“As you see it is old, old wire. Probably some of this other stuff needs to be replaced too,” he said.

Collier trusts the new meter will provide a true reading, so the store’s electric bill will be under control in the future.

“It’s been a struggle,” he said. “We’re here for the community at the end of the day. We want to stay open as long as we can.”

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