Flathead Electric Cooperative member Donna Hall said she loves the three new “smart” appliances the utility co-op installed in her home as part of a study to find the best ways to get 48,000 customers to reduce their peak time power demands.

The appliances are loaded with features and more efficient than her old ones.

Hall’s new dishwasher and washing machine use as little water as possible, depending on the size of the load.

The dryer stops running as soon as a sensor detects that the clothes inside are dry.

The appliances can automatically delay or defer their cycles during peak times of demand and run at times when demand is low.

Thanks to the appliances, Hall said she’s using less water, less soap and less electricity. “I don’t like to pay the higher power bills. If I can save, I will,” she said.

The appliances are set up to warn Hall during peak times of electricity demand — when power is most expensive for the utility — and also are linked to a website where she can monitor her energy usage.

Best of all, Hall said she got her new smart appliances in the door and installed for just $800, saving several thousand dollars compared to what they normally would cost.

Hall is one of about 240 Flathead Electric members in the Libby, Marion and Kila areas who have signed up to participate in the voluntary study. It was developed in part with General Electric, which is supplying the appliances.

Flathead Electric’s study is part of the federal stimulus-funded Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project. It’s a two-year effort involving 11 utilities that are looking for the best ways to reduce demand for electricity at peak times.

The project is just getting off the ground locally as appliances are being installed in participating homes, said Russ Schneider, a regulatory analyst with Flathead Electric and manager of the pilot study.

About a third of the participants, like Hall, are getting the smart appliances and a home energy network installed.

Another third are getting electric water heater demand response units that automatically cycle the water heater off and on to save power during peak time periods.

The rest are getting in-home displays that give near real-time information about home energy usage and provide notice of peak time periods when the utility wants people to reduce their power demands.

All of the study participants will be eligible for a mix of monthly bill credits or rebates for using less power during peak times, as the utility looks for the most cost-effective and member-friendly ways to reduce its peak time power demands in the future.

Traditional energy conservation methods have focused on reducing total consumption.

That approach is still important, but so is finding ways to reduce consumption during peak times of demand, Schneider said.

Flathead Electric supplies about 165 megawatts on average.

During peak times of demand, that total can spike up to as much as 320 megawatts. Those spikes usually occur from 7 to 9 a.m. in the winter and from 4 to 7 p.m. in the summer, Schneider said.

The entire distribution system must be built to accommodate that peak time demand, driving up system costs as it increases. If that peak time demand can be reduced, savings can be found on multiple fronts.

“As part of the cooperative model, if we’re saving on the supply side we can pass that down to members,” Schneider said.

Ratepayers might not see it, but peak time power could start getting more expensive as soon as this October when the Bonneville Power Administration increases its peak time demand charge for Flathead Electric from $2 to about $10.

Flathead Electric will continue to get most of its power at the rate it has enjoyed for years, but the amount it can buy at that rate has been capped and any purchases beyond that will come at a much higher cost.

“The pilot is to figure out how in the future we can take advantage of how they’re billing us to save money, and how to draw during off-peak times,” Schneider said.

“Our hope is that if people can actually see and understand their power consumption in close to real-time, they will find it advantageous to make adjustments to how and when they use electricity … That has the potential to ultimately reduce power supply expenditures for members and the cooperative as a whole.”

For more information about the study visit www.flatheadelectric.com.
Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at tlotshaw@dailyinterlake.com.