by Vince Palermo
The times they are a-changing. One of the ways includes the electric industry. A good change is the increase in the generating capacity of renewable energy. It is a mix of wind and solar and each has its own 24-hr. pattern. The challenging part of renewables is that they are intermittent and unpredictable. That puts a burden on non-renewables to fill in the gaps. Tri-State Generation, which supplies our electricity, is a conglomerate of 21 generating plants scattered over four states. It has been a leader in the field of renewables, having eight of those plants wind- and solar-powered. These eight plants make up 25% of their generating capacity! But since this is variable, coal, gas, and fuel oil fills in the gaps, responding to peak demands. Peak demand electricity is expensive to generate and distribute, and that is responsible for Tri-State’s peak demand electricity cost. SLVREC has gone to a peak demand billing structure to meet Tri-State’s billing costs.
Distribution Demand charge will be for many the highest component of the new bill. It is based on the highest rate of usage (kW) at any time of the month. Energy Charge pays for the actual electricity you use (kWh), and this has gone down. Customer Charge, which pays for data collection, billing and payroll, has increased.
Distribution Demand is $7.59 times the highest kW peak during the month. Let’s look at how this can sneak up on you. Suppose that on a Monday afternoon you have a big laundry pile to do. Because it is very soiled you use warm water in the washer. Then you take it and load it in the electric dryer and turn it on high to get it done fast. While waiting for it to dry, you go in the kitchen and put a roast or pie in the electric oven. Then you make a cup of tea and sit down to catch your
breath and relax. The water heat- er is reheating (4 kW). The dryer adds 3.8 kW. The oven is another 2 kW, and the hot water for tea 1 KW. That’s over 10 kW! And if it is winter, the dryer draws in outside cold air that goes along the floor to a couple of baseboard heaters and turns them on (1kW each). If all are on at the same time, they add together. That’s $75.90 to $91.08 before you have cooked 90 meals or vacuumed the floor!
The above situation is com- pounded for families with school children. After school and work the tranquil house becomes a place of activity and fun. TVs go on, electronic games and musical devices take over. And while each may have a low kW, they add up. Ovens, microwaves, and blenders turn on. For some, it is a 24-hr. cycle of activity that includes jobs, child care, and school. The point is, every house- hold has its own family structure and activity pattern that often does not coincide with the new electrical constraints. Staggering appliances can become a mammoth problem when parents work during the day and only have evenings to do things such as laundry. And how each adapts depends on every person in the family.
For ETS heater users it is more complicated. First, Distribution Demand is $2.85 times the highest kW peak during the month. During winter when the ETS is on, “C” is the time for charging the bricks with heat. C no longer means cheap. There is one flat 4.6 cents per kWh charge all 24 hrs. C extends from 10pm to noon. The Distribution Demand cost of $2.85 is multi- plied by 8 or 11 kW depending on the size of your ETS. That’s $22.80 to $31.35 for starters. If an electric water heater turns on at the same time, it adds on that peak. Anything else, like making breakfast, also adds up. That’s not all! A second
Purchase Power Demand of $5.45 is multiplied by the highest kW peak occurring during the P period from noon to 10pm.
For new construction, electric appliances are less expensive than propane in wiring or piping, so electric are preferred by builders in order to keep the initial cost down. It’s the new owner who will pay the bill when actually using these appliances. Electric rates stay the same throughout the year, while propane charges go up in the winter, but the propane companies offer budget plans that prevent unwelcome surges in cost.
Tips on minimizing peak billing
What to do? You are not a vic- tim. You have choices that will affect your bill. Wash laundry with cold water. Select medium dryer heat. You can have a switch put on your hot water heater so you can turn it off and back on at the best time. Replace electric tankless water heaters. There are load management devices that prevent high kW appliances from going on together, but this requires an electrician to rewire. And most important you can learn how to stagger use of high kW appliances (water heater, dryer, stove, space heaters). This is a learning curve that takes time. I have already blown it myself this first month.
What’s this predicament all about? SLVREC has been planning this over a year! We could have been informed, been given understand- able explanations, and have had a lead time well over six months ago to prepare. For whatever reason, the utility chose to notify us in difficult-to-understand data two weeks before it began. The information was withheld despite the responsibility of SLVREC to inform its members of anything and everything significant pertaining to the delivery of electricity to its members. We are caught in the game of uproar.
Times they are a-changing, and with electricity it’s all about peak. Don’t give your power away! SLVREC customers are coop members, and the function of a coop is to serve its members. We finance their payroll. Become informed. Make good choices. The next few months will be a rough ride, but we will get through this avoidable and unnecessary calamity. I hope this discus- sion has “peaked” your awareness.