MARTINSVILLE, Va. -

Connie Thacker was shocked when she saw her electrical bill in January.

"I swallowed really hard. I was thinking I hope I have enough money to pay for all this," Thacker said.

She used more power for Christmas lights and heat and now regrets it.

"We just live paycheck to paycheck basically. I have social security and everything comes in. I'm on disability," Thacker said.

She lives in Martinsville.

City leaders had the same reaction when they saw what the city owed for power in January.

"My first thoughts were did we have enough money in our purchase power budget to pay this," said Dennis Bowles, the director of Martinsville Utilities.

The city was charged $2.2 million from American Municipal Power.
$1 million more than what the city had anticipated.

"There had been a 25 year span since we've seen a cold this low before," Bowles said explaining the cities reasoning behind the rate increase.

Utility departments in at least three areas say the cold weather jacked up their electric bills.

Martinsville City Council voted Tuesday night to increase the electrical rate roughly five percent per 1000 kilowatt hour starting in May.

The utility director used this example ,if your bill is $105 it will be just over $110.

City council in Danville is also considering a rate increase. The city was charged $13.2 million on electricity in January. That more than $4 million more than the projected $9 million bill. A director at Danville Utilities says during that time the city had to buy electricity at a higher rate from other sources.

The town of Bedford got hit with high costs too. It was charged $2.2 million, $500,000 more than what they expected.

Salem hasn't seen its bill from January but the electric department staff says they don't expect the dramatic bill. It uses American Electric Power.

Bedford, Martinsville and Danville buy electricity in bulk primarily from American Municipal Power and are three of about 14 cities and towns that operate independent electric distribution systems.

A city council member in Martinsville is proposing an investigation, asking AMP to explain exactly why rates were so high in January.