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TMCNet:  Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co.'s summer SmartHours pricing to begin next week in Oklahoma

[May 31, 2013]

Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co.'s summer SmartHours pricing to begin next week in Oklahoma

May 31, 2013 (The Oklahoman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- About 62,000 customers have signed up for Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co.'s SmartHours program that sets different electricity prices for peak times during summer months.

The program, in its second full year, will start again Monday with its summer prices. OG&E enrolled about 40,000 customers in SmartHours last year. The utility said those customers saved an average of $200 from their bills the previous year.

Regular OG&E residential customers pay about 10 cents per kilowatt hour in the peak summer months from June to the end of September. SmartHours customers will pay 5 cents per kilowatt hour anytime except from 2 to 7 p.m. on weekdays. During those peak times on weekdays, prices range from 5 cents up to 44 cents per kilowatt hour, depending on the total electricity demand on OG&E's system.

SmartHours is part of OG&E's plan to delay building a new power plant until at least 2020. Customers get free installation of a programmable thermostat that displays information about peak demand times and the price of electricity during those periods.

To save money, customers can delay or postpone using large appliances such as washers, dryers and dishwashers during peak times. They also can precool their house by lowering the thermostat in the hours leading up to 2 p.m., and then turn the air conditioning up during peak hours to save money.

Angela Nichols, director of marketing for OG&E, said customers can enroll SmartHours throughout the year. Regular customers who reduce usage during peak summer times won't be able to maximize their savings in the same way as SmartHours customers, she said.

In customer surveys, SmartHours participants said they liked the program's savings and flexibility. Last year, just 200 customers dropped out of the program, Nichols said. Others who considered dropping the program were convinced to stay after learning more about a price guarantee for the first year and different strategies to bridge the comfort and savings gap.

"Their primary reason to sign up is to save money and energy," Nichols said. "I think a myth of SmartHours is that you have to make a lot of changes. It really depends on how much savings you want. Even small changes can add up. We've had customers save money by keeping their AC the same but not running the dishwasher or washing machine (at peak times)." Nichols said customers remain in control of their programmable thermostat at all times. The thermostat sends price signals reminding customers of the different rates during peak times. Those alerts, and notifications of pricing for the next day, also can be sent via email, phone or text alerts.

"We don't control the thermostat," Nichols said. "We send it a price signal and it responds to that. We can't override your settings or control it in any way." The highest SmartHours pricing period, called a critical event, is reserved for times of an energy emergency. Last summer, OG&E called six critical events for a total period of 18 hours. This year, electricity for SmartHours customers during critical events will cost 44 cents per kilowatt hour.

Customers on the SmartHours program are split evenly between younger customers, families and older customers, Nichols said. OG&E offers an extra $5 per month credit for customers over age 65 on the SmartHours program.

In a February conference call with analysts, Pete Delaney, chairman, president and CEO of OG&E's parent company, said the utility's installation of smart meters across its customer base was necessary to expand its demand-reduction efforts. The utility has more than 735,000 customers in Oklahoma.

"One of those areas of value is demand response and our focus on the next phase of demand reduction," Delaney said. "We were able to shave approximately 60 megawatts off our peak this past summer. Our goal is to reach 300 megawatts of demand reduction so the incremental base load generation is not needed until 2020." OG&E's all-time peak demand, 7,057 megawatts, came Aug. 3, 2011. Last year, the peak demand hit 7,000 megawatts.

OG&E is working on other efforts to reduce demand and increase energy efficiency. As part of the utility's rate case settlement with Oklahoma regulators last year, the company funded a study of peak-time rebates. That would offer credits to customers for reducing usage during peak times.

Nichols said OG&E may offer some testing periods for future demand-reduction programs by the end of the year.

"We do have a product development group that's looking at the next generation of smart grid-enabled products and services," she said.

Regardless of their enrollment in the SmartHours program, all OG&E customers can go online to myOGEpower.com to track their electricity usage. The website offers a rate comparison tool so customers can plug in their typical usage to compare regular rates and SmartHours rates.

___ (c)2013 The Oklahoman Visit The Oklahoman at www.newsok.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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