Monday, September 1, 2014
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Soapbox Monday: How important is it to steer power use to off-peak times?

Part of the reason individual action counts is that it's a mental reminder, perhaps even a political statement to yourself, about how important it is to use electricity wisely

Soapbox Monday: How important is it to steer power use to off-peak times?

I struggled with this morning's column about off-peak power use. Somehow, I wasn't getting the logic worked out with one of the things I wanted to say. So I'll try it here:

I wanted to make the point that a lot of people are against new nuclear power plants. They're against coal. They're against natural gas.

I wanted to challenge them: If that's the case, what are you going to do about it? Other than write letters to elected officials and do other work to advocate for better policies, is there anything that you're willing to change in your own life to conserve so the nation doesn't need so much power? A lot of individuals would have to make a lot of changes, true, but I've always maintained that individual action counts.

Part of the reason it counts is that it's a mental reminder, perhaps even a political statement to yourself, about how important it is to use electricity wisely. Doing the laundry at night is, perhaps, also an ethics exercise. In switching to off-peak use, I'm making a personal statement.

I've received some interesting comments.

Several people pointed out that PECO is, alas, phasing out a program that charges people reduced rates if they get a separate meter for off-peak use.

Here's one of the emails about it: 

A few years ago I invested around $700 to have a second electrical feed and a separate meter added to my home. The second meter was an off peak meter, and it allows PECO to turn off power to that circuit for several hours each day, during peak power usage. Power is provided to that circuit at a lower rate. My water heater, washer and dryer are attached to that circuit. A win for me (once I pay back the cost of adding the circuit), a win for PECO and a win for the environment! 

That is until the first of this year, when the program began to be phased out. The discount for the off peak power has been cut in half and next year will be eliminated! Here is a system that is already in place, that is working fine, and is being eliminated. When I contacted PECO, I was informed that it was the PUC that had ordered the change, to make it easier for other power producers to compete!

 As a side note, I recall that about 10 years ago, when deregulation was first being discussed, the power providers were given 10 years of price protection to recover there 'sunken costs'. So why was I only given one year to recover my sunken costs?

I have one of those meters, and it's been great, but since I switched electric companies to get 100 percent Pennsylvania wind, I don't think the discount applies any more. Hmmm. I'll have to take another look at my bills.

UPDATE: I just heard from Alex Fuller-Young, electricity program manager at The Energy Cooperative. Turns out my off-peak meter IS still in play. Here's what he said:

In fact you are receiving a discounted rate for your off-peak meter with EcoChoice100. That price is 8.15 cents/kWh, whereas the rate for your standard residential meter is 10.95 cents/kWh, so you’re saving 2.8 cents/kWh, or 26%, on usage tied to your off-peak meter.

It’s true that this price is not as low as PECO’s current discount, and that other suppliers have been unable to compete with PECO on these prices. The reason for this is that PECO is able to offer these very low rates through subsidies. The rationale from the PUC standpoint is that these subsidies should be phased out in order to create a market where PECO and other suppliers can compete on a level playing field.

I'm delighted.  I should have noticed. But sometimes....life seems just too short. Anyway, now PECO people who have off-peak meters know at least one place to look for an option.

Meanwhile... back to the other responses. I loved this email: Our daughter lives in Toronto where the cost of water/energy usage varies through the day. Above their washer/dryer is a laminated card from the energy company which shows the cost of doing wash at different times of day. Do your wash at peak hours and pay more! Very efficient, but I am sure that Americans would not tolerate this sensible solution.

Then again, if electric rates go high enough, maybe we will! I'd love to hear what you think. Please sound off by commenting below.

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
About this blog

GreenSpace is about environmental issues and green living. Bauers also writes a biweekly GreenSpace column about environmental health issues for the Inquirer’s Sunday “Health” section.

Sandy Bauers is the environment reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter and editor. She lives in northern Chester County with her husband, two cats, a large vegetable garden and a flock of pet chickens.

Reach Sandy at sbauers@phillynews.com.

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
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