With temperatures climbing, Oklahoma's electric utilities are rolling out incentives to get customers to use less power in the heat of the day.
Electric companies pay more to generate electricity during peak periods because they have to use all their generators at once. In off-peak times, they use only their least-expensive generators.
Also, because utilities build new power plants based on forecast peak demand, lower electricity usage allows the companies to delay construction plans, saving money for the utility and its customers.
Several Oklahoma utilities next month will roll out their summer “smart” pricing plans, which more efficiently pass those costs and savings to customers.
Under the summer pricing plans, customers pay a higher rate for electricity when demand is at its peak but less during nonpeak times.
The plans allow customers to save money by doing chores such as the laundry in the morning or late evening rather than in the afternoon, when air conditioner use and industrial demand are at their highest.
Utilities have different peak times and rates, but the programs have numerous similarities.
Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. considers its peak hours to be from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays from June 1 to Sept. 30. Customers who chose to participate in the SmartHours program will pay 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for off-peak hours. During peak hours, that same electricity will cost 4.5 cents to 46 cents, depending on overall demand on the system.
OG&E customers who choose not to participate in SmartHours pay the standard rate of about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour at all times.
According to OG&E's website, participating customers saved an average of $200 last summer.
While OG&E's SmartHours program is voluntary, Oklahoma Electric Cooperative has built the peak hours program into its general rate base.
OEC considers peak hours to be from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays from June 1 to Aug. 31. Regular off-peak hours cost 7.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, while peak hours jump to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour.
The sophisticated pricing structure is made possible by “smart” meters, which are rapidly growing in popularity throughout the country.
The high-tech meters report back to the utility with near-instant data, which can then be used to provide the utility and the customer hour-by-hour power usage information.
I have been an OEC customer for more than two years and have had a smart meter that entire time.
I like the ability to quickly see day-to-day changes in my power usage.
OEC's usage chart also includes daily high and low temperatures so I can see how much my daily usage is affected by air conditioning and how much is caused by other things — such as oven and clothes dryer use.
The summertime peak charts also make it very clear which days we run the laundry during peak hours, during nonpeak hours or not at all.
The daily feedback helps me recognize how much money it costs me to lower the temperature in my house by a single degree.
With that knowledge, I can better decide at any given moment whether it is worth it to me to be a little more comfortable or whether I want to keep an extra couple of bucks in my wallet this month.