Politics

Utility companies paying customers to conserve

Friday, August 10, 2012

Continued hot weather prompted California energy officials to issue the first statewide Flex Alert of the season, urging residents to cut back on their power use. Although the alert has been cancelled for the weekend since it's not going to be as hot as originally thought.

When a Flex Alert is issued, it's an opportunity for some Californians to get a rebate on their power bills; though, not enough people have signed up.

For the first time, the state's three investor-owned utility companies -- PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric -- are offering rebates to their enrolled SmartMeter customers for cutting back on electricity usage on certain critical summer days. The less they use, the bigger the rebate.

"We believe they're very effective and they'll be more effective when more customers sign up to be notified," Southern California Edison spokesperson Larry Oliva said. "If we have about 12 events over the summer, a customer could save about $100."

Conservation is music to the ears of the folks running the state's power grid, the California Independent System Operator. There's only so much electricity available, and when everyone cranks up their air conditioners, that makes it harder to avoid outages. But paying customers to conserve could be a game changer.

"It's good for the grid," Cal-ISO spokesperson Stephanie McCorkle said. "It helps us build that cushion of reserves in case we suddenly lose a transmission line or a power plan. And it's really good for the consumer because they're able to keep costs down."

In these tough time, some customers say a credit on their bill sounds great, "If they're going to pay us to do something that we're already trying to do, ie. save money and cut expenses, of course we'd do that, sure," utility customer Bob Plank said.

For others, even a rebate won't motivate them to lay off the A/C, "It'd be really, really hard," said utility customer James Anderson. "I just like being comfortable. I don't like sweating, especially in the house."

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