Utility Encourages Customers to Manage Energy

An electric utility in Washington State is telling its customers to expand their traditional energy conservation efforts with a new generation of energy management.

BELLEVUE, Washington – “Our region’s households and businesses effectively could reduce their demand for electricity by shifting some of their energy consumption away from the hours when wholesale power prices generally spike up each day,” says Gary Swofford, chief operating officer at Puget Sound Energy (PSE). “Conventional measures, such as setting back thermostats, turning off lights when not in use and installing energy-efficient appliances, remain effective ways to lower consumption.” “We can do more,” he adds. “The next generation of energy conservation isn’t just about weatherstripping, putting on a sweater, or adding more attic insulation. It’s about empowering the consumer to take control of energy, use it wisely and be rewarded for taking action.” If the utility’s 920,000 electricity customers shifted only 10 percent of their peak-hour electricity consumption to off-peak times of day, it would free up 200 megawatts of power, enough for 200,000 homes. Shifting electricity to off-peak hours would lower consumers’ power prices, because the lower demand would lower wholesale prices. Peak hours are between 6 and 10 am and between 5 and 9 pm. “We can easily and comfortably reduce demand for electricity simply by shifting use from peak to off-peak times,” he explains. “A kilowatt consumed in the middle of the day can cost several times more than the same kilowatt used at night.” PSE’s campaign is designed to support Gov. Gary Locke’s appeal to conserve electricity. The utility has helped to install more than 800 solar water heating systems and has funded 165,000 homes for insulation and energy-efficient windows, as well as support to wrap 378,500 water heaters with insulation blankets and 680,000 low-energy showerheads and faucet aerators. This winter, 400,000 homes and businesses will receive detailed energy-use data in their monthly invoice, to show the hours of electricity used in peak-use or off-peak periods. PSE hopes its Personal Energy Management program will lead consumers to use less energy during the high-cost times, and will soon adopt electricity rates that are based on time of consumption instead of flat rates. Lowering daily power consumption peaks would limit the number of new power plants that will be needed in the northwest to meet the growing demand. PSE’s conservation programs over the past 20 years now save 1.8 billion kilowatt hours of electricity each year. “Remedies to the region’s energy crunch lie with consumers taking appropriate steps to shift power use from peak hours to off-peak, and with policymakers taking the necessary actions to stabilize the energy marketplace,” says Swofford. As part of its campaign, PSE has urged politicians to encourage the deployment of new technologies that give consumers the ability to manage their demand for electricity and help limit the number of new power plants needed. It also wants the entire west coast power market to be treated equally, without imposing a different set of federal rules in California than in the Pacific Northwest. It wants legislation to remove siting and other barriers so that new power plants can be built and come online quickly to serve the region’s growing demand for electricity, and to allow consumers to lower their electricity bills by offering time-sensitive rates. It also wants the federal government to repair the policies of the Bonneville Power Administration to ensure that federal power benefits are shared equitably by all citizens in the region. PSE is the largest utility in Washington state, and provides electricity and natural gas to 1.2 million customers.