Fueled in part by rising costs and liabilities associated with new power plants, the state's electric utilities in recent years have stepped up their efforts to encourage their customers to cut back on the amount of power they use.
“Peak power is the single most significant reason we have to continue to build large generation,” said Jessie Langston, OG&E's vice president of retail energy. “To the extent we can smooth out that load shape and reduce the peak, we can reduce the need for new power.”
“Peak power” refers to the amount of electricity used when demand is at its greatest. In Oklahoma, that tends to be highest in the late afternoon and early evening of hot summer days — when most Oklahomans have their air conditioners working the hardest.
Utilities must ensure that they can provide all the power needed for these peak times even though demand for those few hours can be much higher than the amount of electricity needed at any other time of the year.
Peak power can be many times more expensive than nonpeak electricity because utilities typically build power plants to cover that cost, and idle those plants when the power is not needed.
To help offset peak-power costs, utilities now include conservation in their long-term energy use projections.
“Five years ago, we would not have sat in a planning room and had someone ask how much I expect customers to conserve, but today, conservation is being looked at as a generation source,” said Eric Raines, consumer program manager at Public Service Co. of Oklahoma.
Conservation is not a new message, but it is a challenge in an energy-producing state like Oklahoma where many consumers think of using energy as almost patriotic.
“It's a challenge,” Raines said, “because in our area of the country where energy is relatively inexpensive to the rest of the country, we're talking about saving money, and some people honestly look at me and say, ‘My bill's not that high.'”