Time-of-use pricing considered in California

Update, 1/22/14: Nevada legislators have already taken action on this issue. In 2013, they passed a law (AB 173) stating that time-of-use rates can only be optional for consumers. TOU rates cannot be mandated by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada.

Time-of-use (TOU) pricing for electrical energy use is almost here. Strictly voluntary for now, they say. Those who choose TOU rates, as well as those who stay with their present rate structure, would get a hefty rate increase.

TOU rates can only be applied to a customer who has a Smart Meter or digital meter. Only Smart Meters or digital meters can incrementally record energy use throughout the day (and Smart Meters send that information every few seconds to the utility company). Analog meters cannot do this.

TOU rates penalize for using energy at certain times during the day – so-called “peak” periods. The stated intent is to get customers to shift their energy use to non-peak times, even to the middle of the night.

How does this work out? It doesn’t. Peak use happens because that’s when it’s convenient for most people to use their ovens, do laundry, use appliances. Cooking dinner, for example, cannot be delegated to the middle of the night.

These rates penalize those with fixed schedules who can only use appliances at certain times, peak or not. Also, older or infirm customers may have to use power all day for health reasons. Middle-of-night laundry usage means a) dried clothes sit all night in the dryer, wrinkling, increasing the need to use energy-hungry irons, or b) the dryer continually cycles on and off all night, c) out-of-balance wash loads clang unfixed, waking the household, or even the neighbors, or harming the machine, and d) any dryer fires happen while asleep. Neighbors in clustered housing will endure machines on during the night. Apartment owners and laundromat owners will pay peak rates since those without laundry equipment will wash and dry at peak hours when the laundromats are open and when it’s convenient, not the middle of the night.

What about air conditioning and heating? These can’t simply be turned off or down, simply because it’s a peak period. In hot or cold regions, particularly for the elderly or those in poor health, not running the air conditioner or heater during peak hours can be life threatening.

What about restaurants or other businesses that operate during peak periods? Will they be penalized with high rates to simply maintain their business?

TOU “looks good on paper” but it simply does not work. Those with money will use as much energy whenever they want. Those without money will have to decide how they will live. Many will not be able to afford these new increases to their bill. Many more people will have to make the difficult decision between rent, food, electricity, and even their health.

Utility companies’ PR about people being able to “manage” their energy use via Smart Meters is pure hype. Nothing more. When will legislators in all our states finally get off their duffs and join the courageous few officials saying, “Enough is enough”?

The Smart Meter program does not work, and TOU rates are just another way the public is getting harmed.

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