The consumer, loose in the blogosphere
Well, we're rolling into the weekend and I thought it might be fun to take a serious topic and provide some potentially comic relief.
The serious topic is demand side management and tiered pricing by utilities to move the needle on consumer behavior for shaving peak load to meet demand without new power generation. Specifically, Xcel Energy in Colorado, my utility and home state, won regulatory approval this week to introduce a two-tier rate system.
This was covered in yesterday's The Denver Post and the resulting comments on the article's forum were enlightening - at least in the sense that these are real people sharing their thoughts and feelings. Many of the comments underscored the smart grid mantra that consumer engagement is a critical element as Xcel and others take steps to implement new technologies, processes and, in today's example, pricing schemes.
On the "potential comic relief" I claim to offer, I'm going to try an experiment. The Denver Post's news article on this two-tiered rate appeared yesterday at 4 a.m. The comments on the accompanying forum began to roll in about 4:40 a.m. and continued to roll in as I typed the first paragraphs of this column. The "potential" part of the "comic relief" stems from the fact that I truly did not ascertain ahead of time what I'd encounter. But I trusted that, somehow, the comments and exchanges would reflect a gamut of perspectives that could offer insight and, I hoped, some laughs.
First, the setup:
From June to September - the peak air conditioning months - Xcel will charge a cheaper rate for the first 500 kilowatt hours (kWh) usage per month and a higher rate for all usage above that amount. The thinking, of course, is that folks who run their air conditioners during peak hours in summer should pay the higher cost of that more expensive electricity. Not all details are known yet, but the spread between the two rates is thought to be about three cents per kWh, according to the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel. The Public Utilities Commission estimated that the average resident would pay about two percent more in the four summer months and five percent less in each of the remaining eight months of the year.
So, forthwith, I'm simply scrolling through the posts and quoting a few remarks here, as space allows. (I'm editing for brevity and cogency.)
4:20 a.m. "This is way better than an across-the-board increase. At least the first 500 kWh are cheapest."
6:25 a.m. "Trust me, Xcel is NOT trying to help the customer! They would NOT do this for that reason. This is one way to get more in the long run."
7:03 a.m. "Charging a tiered rate? How is this remotely constitutional? Name any other item you buy in bulk where it costs you more?!"
7:28 a.m. "Actually, providing the last, marginal peak kWhs costs a lot more than delivering base load. Therefore it makes sense to charge more for heavy users."
8:05 a.m. "Sounds eerily similar to a progressive income tax."
8:07 a.m. "In most (Colorado) houses, air conditioning isn't needed. Evaporative cooling does a great job. Foolish people who install air conditioning will pay extra for that dumb decision."
8:09 a.m. "Is this just another tax on the medical marijuana industry?"
8:13 a.m. "I will just stop paying my bill until they turn me off! More taxation without representation."
8:14 a.m. "Green Nazis strike again."
8:18 a.m. "The new rule should put a major dent in the sales of electric cars. They want everybody to purchase foreign oil and keep the terrorists supplied with cash. Wonderful!"
9:16 a.m. "(Somebody) must live in the mountains. Denver gets blazing hot in the summer. There is no way to sleep without air conditioning. Where are we supposed to get the money for a swamp cooler?"
9:28 a.m. "Many of us don't like the idea of smelling swamp water in our houses."
9:40 a.m. "A 'swamp water smell'? Sorry, I'd be getting into a war of wits with an unarmed adversary if I were to engage you."
Well, folks, might as well cap it here as the fratricide begins. By the way, this takes place in the Post's "Neighbors Community Forum" - a warm and fuzzy place.
If you really want more, check out the forum here. I'm pretty sure this group, like many public forums, is not directly representational of the public at large. So, clearly, I had some fun with it. But it occurs to me that Xcel might want to consider the "street team" concept and get in touch with their ally, the person who posted at 7:28 a.m. Because our local utility may need a hand.
Intelligent Utility Daily