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home : current news : current news March 24, 2018

2/2/2010 12:15:00 PM
Tollgate residents participate in power project
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

Every morning, about 53 million electric water heaters click on across America as people jump in the shower to start their day. They also fire up microwave ovens, turn on the TV, boot up the computer, sucking massive amounts of electricity out of the grid.

That peak usage puts a major burden on the electrical infrastructure - and costs a lot of money. Utilities have to build "peaking power plants," fired by natural gas, to meet that peak demand. Some of those plants run only about 200 hours a year, but as Central Electric Cooperative (CEC) Senior Electrical Engineer Don Lang notes, "these cost hundreds of millions of dollars."

It used to be relatively easy to site, fund and construct such plants, but "those days have come and gone," says Lang.

Utilities are looking for other ways to manage peak demand, and CEC and residents of Tollgate are at the forefront of an experiment in peak load management.

Several Tollgate residents (including this correspondent) have allowed CEC to install timers on their water heaters. The water heaters are shut off during the peak demand hours in the morning, from around 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. The heaters store enough water to allow normal showers and morning activities, but by delaying reheating the water until after peak, customers avoid adding to the load on the system.

It's a simple, easy means of saving a little bit of electricity per customer, and collective results could be significant.

"Water heater timers... are the low-hanging fruit of load demand or energy management," Lang said.

If 15,000 members eventually get on timers, Lang said, "there's potential for 15 megawatts of power to be shifted over to another time period. That's significant. That's the capacity of a substation or half of a BPA (Bonneville Power Administration) peaking power plant."

BPA is supporting CEC's pilot project to see how customers react to the timers. The program will be put forth to Tollgate residents later this winter.

"Our plan is to offer up to 70 Tollgate homeowners a free, programmable Intermatic water heater timer, installed at CEC's expense by a licensed electrician, with the county permit also paid for by CEC," said CEC Member Services Director Alan Guggenheim. "We will program the timers to turn off the hot water heater from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. daily, subject to the homeowner's manual override of the unit any time."

This correspondent has had the timer installed for about three weeks. On only one day was there a lack of hot water, due to heavier-than-normal usage.

"Our objective is to see if homeowners notice any difference in availability of hot water during the curtailment," Guggenheim said. "The 50 gallons in today's well-insulated tanks stay hot for many hours and, besides, the average recovery time of a water heater that's been turned off for several hours appears to be about one hour."

If you expect higher-than-normal usage - for example, from guests using the shower - you can press a button to override the timer shutoff.

Some of the early participants have requested that the heater be turned off for longer periods, since they are out of the house during the day and not using hot water.

"It gives customers control over an electrical appliance that they've never had control over before," Lang said.

Potential dollar savings to individual CEC customers is minimal, but large-scale collective participation in the program could help avoid future rate hikes, Guggenheim said.

The BPA "Peak Power" project in Tollgate is one of two such pilot programs under BPA auspices in the Pacific Northwest.

Tollgate was selected because "it is an ideal test bed," Guggenheim said. He and Lang, both Tollgate residents themselves, have the timers.

"We selected Tollgate because we believe it's a 'green' community of progressive homeowners committed to setting a good example for others," Guggenheim said. "The Tollgate homeowners who participate would be helping our region postpone building more power plants that might be needed to supply electricity during periods of peak usage."

Guggenheim will mail a letter explaining the project to Tollgate residents in the next 30-60 days.

Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, March 20, 2010
Article comment by: Nola Belding

I had this timer installed a couple weeks ago. Very easy. No problems. I turned it off during the nighttime hours too. I encourage everyone to do this. If you are working and need someone to be there for the electrician, I'd be happy to help. Betty at the Tollgate office can give you my number.

Posted: Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Article comment by: Ellen Fisher

This is a fantastic, low impact way for the utility to keep rates low while preserving the low-carbon NW Power System. I only wish that I was a Tollgate resident so that I could participate in the program. Are there plans to roll it out utility-wide in the future?

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