Flint Energies is signing up volunteers for a new summer rebate program funded partly through a Department of Energy stimulus grant.
Participants will receive rebates if they reduce their electricity usage during the hottest hours of the hottest summer days.
The program serves primarily as a way for the Department of Energy to test different approaches to energy conservation.
“If members knew about their usage at peak times, would they make changes on their own? That’s what the Department of Energy wants to know,” said Jimmy Autry, senior vice president for the cooperative that serves members in 11 counties and Fort Benning.
Twenty-eight cooperatives across the country will be testing out different concepts and pricing structures as part of the Department of Energy program, but Flint is the only participant in Georgia, Autry said.
The Department of Energy provided $5.2 million of the total $10.5 million cost of the program.
The federal funding is speeding up the installation of 49,000 smart meters in Houston County, a project that was originally slated to take until 2018 but will be finished in a year, he said. About 900 meters are being installed a day, with completion expected in September. Many rural Flint customers already had these meters, which can be read electronically.
The meters enable customers to participate in the Hot Summer Rebates program, which lasts from June 1 through Sept. 30. Instead of paying 9.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, customers who volunteer and are chosen will actually be paid 87 cents a kilowatt-hour by Flint (in the form of a credit on their monthly bill) for their reduced usage between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on very hot days.
On mornings when Flint Energies predicts high energy demand due to high Southeastern temperatures, it will notify program members that they should reduce their usage that afternoon. One group of participants will receive hourly usage information on a device in their home; another will be notified by e-mails, texts and phone calls, Autry said.
To encourage members to sign up, Flint is sweetening the pot by entering participants’ names in a drawing for free GE appliance packages worth close to $10,000.
Only 300 residential members, plus 150 members in a control group, will be chosen to participate. After less than a week of sign-ups, 200 to 250 customers had already volunteered, Autry said, and the company expects that 2,000 to 3,000 might volunteer before the enrollment period ends March 15. Participants from throughout the Flint coverage area will be chosen randomly to represent a range of household sizes.
Rebate programs increasing
Summer rebate programs have gained traction at power companies and cooperatives in recent years. Flint Energies and other electric cooperatives in the state already offer programs that rely on a control device that allows the electric company to remotely shut off the air conditioning or hot water heater for brief periods.
For example, Tri-County EMC, which serves Baldwin, Jones and Putnam counties, revived a program like this four years ago. A previous version had ended in the 1980s as prices and contracts changed, said Greg Mullis, vice president of energy services for Tri-County.
Of Tri-County EMC’s 21,000 members, a little more than 3,000 participate, and the company hopes to sign up 700 to 1,000 more this year, he said. Participants receive a $25 credit on their October bill and save themselves money long term by helping reduce Tri-County’s need to add expensive generating capacity, Mullis said.
Last summer’s record heat meant that the EMC turned off air conditioning at participating homes on 20 to 25 days, compared to just three or four days some summers, he said. But most shut-offs last only a few minutes and aren’t noticed by the customer, he said.
Georgia Power has a program that reduces customer rates on nights and weekends in exchange for their reducing usage during peak times. Unlike the new Flint Energy program, participants who fail to reduce their peak-time usage will be charged a higher-than-usual rate from 2 to 7 p.m. on weekdays from June to September.
Georgia Power spokeswoman Konswello Monroe said the rate has been offered for more than a decade. But since the company started promoting it more in 2008, more than 7,000 customers now participate.
Flint’s new program is the first in Georgia that allows consumers to make decisions about what to turn off during peak heat periods, but doesn’t penalize them if they don’t change their behaviors, Autry said.
He said if Flint Energies customers like the program, the company will keep it in future years.
Also this month, Flint Energies partnered with General Electric Co. to announce a two-year pilot program to test how the use of GE smart grid appliances can save consumers money and reduce peak energy loads.
Ten randomly chosen Warner Robins participants in the Hot Summer Rebates program will receive GE’s full set of Brillion-enabled appliances, a programmable thermostat and further technology that provides real-time energy-use information without a smart meter.
Basically, Flint will be able to communicate directly with the appliances so the cooperative can reduce energy use during peak load times.
To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.