Business

Here's a switch: Electric companies will pay you to help conserve power

Rick Whited used an iPhone to activate a remote load-control switch on his own home in Lexington. Kentucky Utilities installs the devices for customers in the Demand Conservation program. KU can cycle the air conditioner off for a short time during peak usage.
Rick Whited used an iPhone to activate a remote load-control switch on his own home in Lexington. Kentucky Utilities installs the devices for customers in the Demand Conservation program. KU can cycle the air conditioner off for a short time during peak usage. Lexington Herald-Leader

With many utility bills on the rise because of required environmental upgrades, an opportunity is rapidly approaching for consumers to get credits toward their monthly costs.

Kentucky's major electricity providers — including Kentucky Utilities, East Kentucky Power Cooperative and Kentucky Power — all offer programs that give credits to customers who allow the utility to control devices including air conditioners on the hottest days of the year.

The utilities use the control to cycle a home's air conditioner at a different time to spread out the demand for power across the electric grid. In exchange, they offer credits on summer electric bills.

"If it's one device affecting one compressor, that may seem like a drop in the bucket when you consider the size of our systems," said Kentucky Utilities spokeswoman Liz Pratt. "But when (all the) devices are being cycled, that makes a huge impact to help lessen the load."

It's important to lessen the load, observers say.

"If you can shave those peaks, which is what those devices do, that reduces the need over time for the utility to add additional generating capacity, and that benefits everybody," said Andrew Melnykovych, spokesman for the state Public Service Commission. "That's money the utility doesn't have to spend, and if the utility doesn't spend it, it doesn't get passed on to ratepayers."

The utilities say they flip the switch, so to speak, only when it's absolutely necessary, and air-conditioner fans "will continue to run and circulate the cool air that's already been generated to keep that comfortable for you," Pratt said.

KU also cycles off the devices no more than 20 times from June to September, with the cycling occurring most often during the late afternoon and evening.

"We never cycle on weekends or holidays," Pratt said, noting the utility also posts a notice on its Web site at Lge-ku.com/dc to note when cycling events are scheduled.

KU has 76,426 switches installed, but that's a small fraction of its more than 500,000 customers in the state.

"I think there is a perception out there that people are uncomfortable with the utility coming into their house and asking what are they going to control? Am I going to roast?" said Elizabeth Crowe, director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation. "What seems to be the reality, though, is the effects are so minor that they're barely felt."

Melnykovych noted, "It's my experience, because I've got one on my own house, that you don't really notice."

And it's essentially getting something for nothing given the credits on the bill, he said.

"Relative to most people's electric bills, that's not a huge amount, but it's something," he said.

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