Trying to beat the peak

Published 1:16 pm Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Contributing Editor

The theme of Monday’s town-hall meeting about Washington Electric Utilities could have been these three words: beat the peak.
That was one of the key messages that Washington officials and a representative of ElectriCities and the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency delivered to WEU customers and others at the Washington Civic Center.
Some WEU customers delivered a message of their own to those officials: Help us lower our electric bills.
As the officials stressed the importance of energy conservation in decreasing electric bills, some WEU customers at the meeting listened to that message, indicating they wanted more information concerning ways they could lower their electric bills.
During the meeting, WEU customers and others received a primer on the WEU system, ElectriCities and NCEMPA.
In his opening remarks, Mayor Archie Jennings said he, the City Council and other city officials are looking for ways to lower WEU customers’ electric bills without putting the city’s electric system in financial jeopardy.
“We’re trying to do our job in finding out the facts so we can find a solution,” Jennings said.
“We are on your side. That’s why we are here,” Ken Raber, senior vice president of NCEMPA and ElectriCities representative, said.
The city buys its power at wholesale rates from NCEMPA, one of two power agencies served by ElectriCities, a trade organization. Raber said that NCEMPA. About 40 cents for each energy-related dollar paid by a WEU residential customer goes toward retiring the city’s NCEMPA-related debt, according to city officials.
Collectively, the 32 NCEMPA members face $2.4 billion in debt. Currently, Washington’s share of that debt is $144 million. The bulk of that debt is to pay for the construction of power plants, including nuclear power plants, some built as far back as the mid-1970s. NCEMPA members have ownership in those power plants.
Washington, Belhaven and other public-power municipalities have contracts with NCEMPA. Those contracts, which 32 cities and towns in eastern North Carolina signed in the 1970s, commit those municipalities to repaying a share of the debt incurred as the result of building nuclear power plants owned by NCEMPA. The contracts require those cities and towns to buy their electricity from NCEMPA.
Getting rid of that debt would remove a large cost area that makes up the electric bills for NCEMPA members and their retail customers, Raber said. That debt is scheduled to be fully retired by 2026.
Several WEU customers asked what is being done to bring their electric bills down, bills they are struggling to pay from month to month.
“There are some plans in the system where we can save money,” Jennings said.
While the city can do little, if anything, regarding its NCEMPA debt other than pay it, the city can continue with its existing programs to reduce power consumption, which leads to lower electric bills, city officials said.
“The answer is conservation,” Jennings said.
Decreasing the amount of power consumer use during each month’s one-hour peak-demand time is instrumental in greatly reducing the city’s electric bill and the electric bills of WEU customers, Raber and Keith Hardt, WEU director, said.
Except for that one-hour period each month, it costs NCEMPA members about 4.5 cents, on average, for each kilowatt hour of power used, Hardt said. But during that one-hour period each month, known as peak demand, that same amount of power costs about $12.56 per kilowatt hour, he noted.
That results in 50 percent of a NCEMPA member’s power bill coming from that one-hour usage of power, Hardt said. Reducing power consumption during that peak hour each month can help save millions of dollars, he noted.
“Our biggest bang for our buck is shaving that peak,” Hardt said.
Hardt suggested WEU customers take advantage of WEU’s load-management program, in which devices are installed on some electric appliances such as water heaters and heat pumps. Those devices, which are radio-controlled, allow the city to turn off those appliances during times when peak demands are expected. That saves the city and its power customers money. WEU customers in the load-management program receive credits each month on their electric bills.
Don Wilkinson, a member of the Washington Electric Utilities Advisory Board and an electrician, talked about the value of using compact fluorescent light bulbs. Properly using CFLs can result in substantial savings on electric bills, he said.
Boxes of CFLs were distributed to those who attended Monday’s meeting.
Some WEU customers who live outside the city complained about the city’s history of transferring money from the electric fund to the city’s general fund to help pay for day-to-day operations of city government. They decried that practice as unfair to them.
Jennings said the city is moving toward decreasing, if not eliminating, the amount of money the city moves from its electric fund to its general fund. The city initiated a plan calling for it to reduce that annual transfer by $100,000 each year.
“We are ahead of schedule,” Jennings said.
For more information about conserving electricity and the city’s programs to help WEU customers lower their electric bills, call 975-9300 and ask to speak with a customer-service representative or visit City Hall at ask to speak with a customer-service representative.