Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It Seemed Like a Good Idea

Several years ago (so far back I can't remember exactly when...but I was in my early 20s) I participated on a panel for our local electric utility company. The goal was to figure out how to explain and advertise a new billing program. (Plus I got some free lightbulbs!)

In my mind, it seemed like a great idea. You paid different rates based on WHEN you used power. So if I needed to run the dish washer it would be cheaper for me to do so after 5 p.m. and even cheaper after 8 p.m. during off peak hours.

Not only could it decrease your cost of electricity it would take strain off of the 'grid' during peak hours if people shifted their use.

Unfortunately, there were too many bleeding hearts on the panel who thought it wasn't "fair" to everyone. The highest cost would be the same for everyone and then if you adjusted your usage it would go down from there. But these whiners came up with all kinds of possible exceptions that could potentially be treated unfairly by this change in billing - People with special needs who had to use electricity all day, poor people, the elderly. Bla bla bla. None of their bills would actually go up, but since they might not be able to benefit from the lower rates it wasn't fair. It was incredibly frustrating and ultimately their complaints won out and the program got scrapped.

So everyone pays more so that it can be "fair" to everyone (gee, what does that sound like?). Those who may have been "harmed" (using that word loosely here) don't get the choice of lower rates, and neither does anyone else.

It looks like another company is at least trying to move forward with a similar idea by installing Smart Meters to monitor usage. I'm not so sure I love this idea entirely, especially the control they'd have from some main center to turn power on and off, but it's not a bad idea to let people know exactly how much power they are using.
If a utility decides to shut off a customer for nonpayment, it can do so by remote control; if the customer pays enough money to allow resumption of service, the utility can also do that from a central office without sending out a representative.
I'm torn on the whole shutting people's power off power...but in general if you don't pay you shouldn't get a service and power is no exception. And I like the fact that these smart meters can tell the company instantly that someone's power has gone out (which ours has twice in the past three weeks).

The long-term impact of the smart meters is uncertain. Some studies show that people use less electricity when they can see the numbers ticking higher on the meter.

Aside from the concern over 'big brother' type monitoring, I really like the idea behind smart meters. Being able to monitor my power usage and adjusting it to pay less is a very appealing idea. Knowledge is power after all. :)


Kacie said...

I would go bananas on someone who said, "Oh, we can't offer this discount because it wouldn't apply to everyone, and that's not fair."

What kind of stupid reasoning is that?


CastoCreations said...

Tell me about it! It was SO frustrating, but I was the youngest person there and felt a little intimidated. Now I'd be all obnoxious and arguing about it. lol =)

pamibe said...

Actually, basing usage fees on time frames sounds really great and wouldn't create overloads on the system if people used more 'off-peak' hours for stuff like dishwashers, etc...

Whiners have to spoil it for everyone.

I signed us up for a deal that puts a box on our hot water heater and A/C. We get a monthly discount and they get to shut us off remotely if there's an overload. It's only happened once in the many, many years we've been with the program and that was because of a hurricane. The A/C was off for a few hours while they tried to pump power somewhere else; all the other stuff worked.

Could they shut us off remotely for non-payment? I don't know and I hope I never have to find out! LOL!