High-tech program to test use of electricity in Libby
Volunteers in Libby will be the first
in the Flathead Electric Cooperative to participate in a pilot
program to see if – when given the right options, information and
rewards – consumers will choose to reduce the amount of power they
use during peak times.
The Bonneville Power Administration,
Flathead Electric’s major power supplier, late this year plans to
significantly increase its peak-time demand charge, giving Flathead
Electric and its customers an incentive to even-out its usage.
“If we can move power from that hour to
other hours in the month, we have a lower cost overall in power,”
explained Flathead Electric’s regulatory analyst Russ Schneider,
who shaped the peak-time project.
During the hours in the month when the
most electricity is being used, BPA, a wholesale power supplier for
the Pacific Northwest, sometimes taps out its resources, Schneider
said. When that occurs, BPA is forced to buy power from other
suppliers at a price that inflates during high-demand hours.
Flathead Electric plans to gather 300
volunteer households in the Libby area and, for the same project
later in the year, 150 households in the Marion and Kila areas, to
test how well a few different technologies work toward lowering
peak-time usage. Volunteers will receive participation rebates, as
well as further incentives when their usage decreases during peak
“The goal is to find out which option
is best for our members that we can deploy on a wider scale,”
Schneider said. “Or, if we learn our members don’t like this, they
don’t want to mess around with it, then we know that also.”
Flathead Electric was awarded a $2.3
million federal grant to fund the upgrades and equipment needed in
order to implement the program, Schneider said, which is part of a
larger BPA-led effort to improve smart grid technology in the
In Libby, the program begins in April
and is scheduled to last for three years, though participants will
not be penalized for quitting early, project outreach coordinator
Teri Rayome-Kelly said. She had 16 people signed up as of last week
and several others who were interested, she said.
The simplest technology that will be
available for renters or homeowners is an in-home display that
plugs into any electrical outlet and provides real time information
about energy consumption in the residence. The device also sends
alerts when peak-time periods are approaching in order to allow
consumers to voluntarily reduce their usage – put off for a few
hours washing a load of laundry or running the dishwasher, for
The 100 chosen volunteers will
automatically receive a $5 monthly credit during the duration of
the program, as well as be eligible for rebates if data reveals
that the consumer used less power during peak times.
Flathead Electric is also looking for
100 households to allow a demand-response unit to be placed on
their electric water heater. To reduce demands on the system, the
water heater would be automatically cycled off and on for up to
three hours during peak times. Taking the average capacity and
insulation of modern water heaters into consideration, participants
may not even notice the difference, according to Flathead Electric
“With most water heaters, they’re not
going to notice it cycling because it would already be filled up
with hot water,” Rayome-Kelly said.
Renters may participate in the water
heater option, Rayome-Kelly said, but must have their landlord’s
permission. Volunteers may choose to opt-out of the program for a
designated period of time, but won’t receive their $8 participation
credit for the month.
The home energy network, the final
option, is the most elaborate. In this scenario, Flathead
Electric’s peak-time meters can send signals to “smart appliances”
to alert them to reduce their electrical usage. The appliances are
programmed to stop running or to use lower wattage settings during
those times, though homeowners can override the system. Homeowners
can also track their energy usage on the computer.
To participate in this option, an $800
one-time fee gets homeowners a new dishwasher, clothes washer and
dryer, and the equipment, software and installation required to
make the system work. The participant must also pay the cost of
Internet service, and is eligible for rebates based on using less
electricity during peak times.
“When it’s a peak time and you’re not
at home, you don’t have to do anything to it,” Rayome-Kelly said.
“It will automatically kick down to a lower-energy use, like your
dishwasher would automatically go to air dry.”
Some cooperatives have been successful
in implementing similar programs and others have not, Schneider
said. The in-home display technology has become somewhat common,
though the home energy network is more cutting-edge.
“We’re going from smart-grid light to
smart-grid heavy and we’re seeing, as a member-owned cooperative,
what our members like, what our members don’t like,” he said, “to
see if we can pass positive incentives. We don’t have rate
penalties – we have rebates.”
If the incentives are cost-effective,
they can be implemented on a larger scale. Schneider pointed out an
example of a successful use of smart-grid technology.
“In areas where they’ve had high
air-conditioning load, these type of demand-response systems are a
lot more common because air-conditioning can be very peaky in the
summer,” he said.
The program won’t be implemented in the
Marion and Kila areas until late summer after substation upgrades
can be performed, but Flathead Electric is already taking names of
those who are interested, Rayome-Kelly said.
For questions or to participate, stop
by the Flathead Electric office in Libby or call Rayome-Kelly at
293-7122, ext. 1834, or 751-1834.