Last month Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) announced an innovative new pilot program. The goal is to change how much and when member-owners use electricity. REC wants to reduce how much electricity member-owners use on the hottest summer afternoons. This is when demand for electricity is highest. REC will pay some member-owners to use less electricity at these times.
REC says reducing demand at these times will save a significant amount of money. REC says the amount it pays for wholesale electricity is not just based on the total amount of electricity it purchases. A significant part of the cost is how much electricity the utility buys during the five highest-consumption (peak) hours each summer. REC passes its wholesale power costs right on to us consumers. REC says the total cost of our electricity will go down if it can lower our total power consumption during peak times.
No one can know ahead of time which five hours each summer will end up being the peak five hours. But utilities have a pretty good idea. They know that they tend to be in the late afternoon on the very hottest summer weekdays. They can use weather forecasts to predict those days ahead of time. REC wants to pay member-owners to reduce their consumption between 4 and 6 p.m. on approximately 15 hot summer days. It says this will reduce REC’s total consumption on what eventually turn out to be the year’s five peak demand hours.
Under the program, REC will notify participating member-owners a day ahead of each of the likely 15 peak days. This will allow those member-owners to voluntarily reduce their electricity consumption the next day during the selected hours. REC will then compare their usage during those peak hours with their average consumption during the same period on the ten previous non-peak weekdays. It will pay the member-owner 75¢ for each kilowatt-hour reduction in usage in comparison to their ten-day average. Participating member-owners can save substantial amounts. But, all REC members will save by the reduction in overall year-long wholesale power costs.
We commend REC for proposing this program. It has the potential to reduce all REC member-owners’ bills, even if they don’t participate in the program. REC’s proposal shows that reducing power consumption on hot summer afternoons saves money for everyone.
Sadly, REC hasn’t acknowledged member-owner installed rooftop solar offers similar benefits. It can also help lower the co-op’s peak summer demand. REC officials and board members have wrongly suggested members-owners who don’t have solar “subsidize” those who do. REC has been reluctant to admit that homeowner solar, and also efficiency upgrades, have a significant role to play in reducing costs for all co-op members.
Other co-ops have figured this out. Arkansas’ Ouachita Electric Co-op and North Carolina’s Roanoke Electric Co-op have. They both have programs to help their members install and pay for efficiency upgrades and rooftop solar. This reduces bills for all co-op members.
This is another example of how REC’s unfair election practices harm member owners. Giving current board members control of election outcomes has kept the board of directors insulated from new ideas and member concerns. The co-op’s new pilot program is a small step in the right direction. REC still has a long way to go to catch up with industry leaders like Ouachita and Roanoke. These cooperatives are reducing members’ bills while increasing the share of clean energy in their power mix.
You can read REC’s State Corporation Commission filing to get full details about the proposal. And if you want even more detail on how it works you can read this explainer from utility consulting firm Power System Engineering.