Peco's popular Smart A/C Saver program, which pays customers to let the utility cycle their air-conditioners on and off during the hottest summer days, has been relaunched for another year, although in a slightly less ambitious form.
The utility this week notified the 80,000 customers with radio-controlled switches installed on their air-conditioners that the program has been renewed starting June 1. But the annual incentive for participants has been cut from $120 to $80.
Peco threatened to suspend the program in December after the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission said the utility could not pay for the peak-shaving program until the PUC finished a review of whether such plans are cost-effective.
The PUC revised its decision May 9 after Peco said that it could meet its overall energy-conservation goals and still fit the $10 million cost of the Smart A/C Saver program in its budget.
Several local utilities employ similar "direct-load control programs." The programs typically allow utilities to cycle customers' air-conditioner compressors off for 15-minute intervals, an effective way to curtail load during hours when power demand threatens to surpass supply on the grid.
Peco and supporters of its program worried that customers would flee if the program were suspended, damaging the prospects of restarting the program.
Peco last year curtailed power for 51 hours, but plans to call fewer "conservation events" this year. And the utility does not plan to actively market the program to expand participation, but will try to maintain current enrollment so that the system is still in place if the PUC allows it to continue next year.
"We wanted to ensure we still had the devices on customers' homes," said Ben Armstrong, a Peco spokesman.
Even with Peco's reduced incentives - given as $20 credits on bills from June through September - its program is more generous than similar programs at other utilities.
About 35,000 customers are signed up for Atlantic City Electric's Energy Wise Rewards program, which pays an up-front $50 bonus but no ongoing incentives. The New Jersey utility's program provides customers with a radio-controlled thermostat that also allows residents to manage their energy use remotely via the Internet.
Customers who want more information on the programs can contact Peco at 1-888-573-2672, Atlantic City Electric at 1-866-355-4229, or Public Service Electric & Gas Co.'s Cool Customer program at 1-888-504-4028.