Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Idahoans saved energy in 2009

Wood River Valley won’t see Idaho Power programs until 2011

Express Staff Writer

Idaho Power customers saved enough energy in 2009 to power 10,000 average homes for a year.

About 132,500 megawatt-hours less electricity was used than in 2008. That's a 23 percent jump in energy saved compared to 2008 when customers used 107,500 MWh less than the previous year, and is greatly due to the efforts of residential customers. This group is the largest demographic of Idaho Power's four customer groups—residential, commercial, industrial and irrigation—making up 38 percent of the energy use and almost half the company's revenue.

Helena Fowler, Idaho Power communications specialist, said the energy-reduction improvement is mostly due to customers voluntarily participating in new programs implemented in 2009 to decrease electricity use.

And the company plans to expand its energy-efficiency programs in 2010, as outlined in its annual Demand-Side Management report submitted in March to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.

One of the bigger changes is "smart meters," installed in place of traditional meters with the spinning dials. The new meters have a digital readout and also collect hourly data on electricity use, which can be viewed by customers on the Internet. This is possible because Idaho Power uses the power lines to send information from the meters to its computers.

Idaho Power spokeswoman Stephanie McCurdy said Idaho Power workers now won't need to drive out to people's properties to read meters. The meters will save money for the company and customers, who can now see exactly when their use peaks and try to mitigate it.

"It's exciting technology, enabling control of usage and, ultimately, bills," McCurdy said.

As of February, the company reported installing 188,685 smart meters, primarily in Ada and Boise counties. About 27,600 other meters in the Emmett and McCall areas have been in place since the 2004 pilot project.

McCurdy said meters will be installed in Canyon and Payette counties during 2010, but the Wood River Valley will be one of the last areas to see smart meters, to be installed in 2011.

Another innovative approach to energy savings is the A/C Cool Credit, in which customers volunteer to have Idaho Power cycle their air conditioning on and off during summer energy-use peaks. Fowler said the usual cycling rate is on for 15 minutes and off for 15 minutes, with a maximum of 40 hours each month for June, July and August. However, only seven cycling events took place in 2009, all in July, because of the mild summer.

In return for volunteering, customers receive $21 for these three months, and they don't have to worry about touching their A/C units.

Idaho Power does the cycling all remotely with radio-controlled switches. Bad news for the Wood River Valley is the radio signal won't reach the area. The powerline signal for smart meters can be used for A/C cycling, but that won't happen here until 2011.

Idaho Power reported 30,400 A/C Cool Credit participants in 2009, an increase of more than 10,000 from 2008 as the program expanded beyond Ada County, Canyon County, the Emmett valley and the Payette and Twin Falls areas into the Pocatello area.

Even though Wood River Valley customers can't benefit from the smart meters and A/C program, they can take advantage of the See Ya Later Refrigerator program launched last June. This program pays customers $30 for having Idaho Power remove stand-alone freezers and extra refrigerators, which are then recycled.

But Idaho Power isn't doing any of this for free. All customers are paying for these programs. Near $35 million was collected from customers in monthly bills during 2009 to finance energy-efficiency programs. Idaho customers paid $32 million of it. Idaho Power serves a small portion of Oregon, but the bulk of its customers are in southern Idaho.

For 2010, Idaho Power is seeking approval from the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to increase customers' base rates by 1.8 percent starting on June 1. For the typical home using 1.05 MWh per month, the monthly bill would increase by $1.59 during June through August and by $1.53 during non-summer months. Of this 1.8 percent increase, 0.34 percent will be to finance smart meters, producing an estimated $2.4 million in additional revenue per year.

Trevon Milliard:

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