Capital Electric program provides incentives to delay energy-intensive chores during peak events
Can you imagine getting paid for putting off doing the dishes or throwing in a load of laundry?
This might seem too good to be true, but it’s not. In October 2017, Basin Electric Class C member Capital Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Bismarck, North Dakota, began its Peak Time Rebate Program, where members can earn a rebate for reducing their electric use during “peak events” the co-op alerts them to each month.
Peak events tend to occur at times when many people are using a lot of electricity at the same time. So, in a sense, customers would get paid for waiting a couple hours to complete these energy-intensive household tasks.
For example, it’s a really hot summer day. You’ve been at work all day and the kids are at daycare, so you haven’t used much electricity at home. But around 5 p.m., you return home and the house feels hot and sticky so you turn down the temperature and let the air conditioner work its magic. Meanwhile, the kids are screaming that they’re hungry, so you turn on the oven to cook dinner and the TV to watch the evening news. During a commercial you run to the laundry room to throw a load of clothes in the washing machine. An hour later, you load and run the dishwasher, transfer the clean clothes to the dryer, and notice the television is still on even though nobody is watching it, and the lights are on in every room of the house because somebody forgot to turn them off.
Because this is a common scenario occurring in many households in Capital Electric’s service area, electric rates are being driven upward as a result of so many people using their electricity at the same time.
Why does that matter? Don’t we just get charged for the amount of electricity we use? Not necessarily.
“Roughly 40 percent of Capital Electric’s monthly power cost from our wholesale power supplier is determined by the total amount of electricity our members use, but the other 60 percent is based on the single highest point during the month when our members use the most electricity,” explains Wes Engbrecht, Capital Electric’s director of communications.
“The reason it works this way is because there has to be enough electricity generated to meet that peak demand. It’s basically an availability charge. If there isn’t enough generation available to meet the highest demand, the supplier would need to build new power plants, transmission lines, and substations in order to meet those demands.”
Capital Electric developed the Peak Time Rebate Program to help reduce its overall peak. It does this by asking its members to reduce their usage during the times when electric usage is especially high. When it anticipates such an event, the co-op sends an email or text alert notifying program participants of the event and asking them to reduce their usage during that time. The notifications are usually sent a day in advance, and the events are typically two hours long. Then, using the member’s past usage patterns, an analysis is conducted to determine how much each member saved during that time. For each kilowatt hour saved, the member earns a 75-cent rebate.
While it is difficult to predict how much a member can earn by participating in the program, those who are aggressive about turning off electric appliances during peak events can likely save around $200 per year. Rebates are calculated twice a year and are paid in the form of a credit on the member’s electric bill.
“The program is totally voluntary and there is no downside to participating,” Engbrecht says. “You can participate as much or as little as you want. Some people don’t do anything, some postpone running their dishwasher or doing laundry until after the event, and some turn off all their power to earn the most money they can.”
While it’s too early to tell whether or not the program has lowered the demand during peak events, similar programs have been successfully implemented at electric cooperatives across the country, reducing their overall power costs.
“Our goal is not to reduce our total revenue from energy sales, just spread it out – we want the use to be a slow, steady rise instead of a sharp peak,” Engbrecht says. “Balancing electric use helps us lower our bill from our supplier, a savings we can pass along to our members.”
Members of Capital Electric can sign up to participate in the program at any time by visiting the co-op’s website www.capitalelec.com.