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Ambit Energy - Conservation, efficiency can offset record rates, maybe avoid blackouts

This summer will be hot, and Texans will want to turn up air conditioners full blast.

They’d better be ready to pay.

Temperatures in Texas are setting records at a time when electricity prices are at record highs. Even a household that uses the same amount of electricity as last year can expect higher bills this summer.

Temperatures in Texas are setting records at a time when electricity prices are at record highs. Even a household that uses the same amount of electricity as last year can expect higher bills this summer.

The average North Texas household can expect to pay $258 this August, up more than 20 percent from a year earlier – assuming their consumption stays the same. The answer: Conserve.

Temperatures in Texas are setting records at a time when electricity prices are at record highs. Even a household that uses the same amount of electricity as last year can expect higher bills this summer.

“Everybody could probably conserve a little bit, set the temperatures a little bit higher, you know, change the type of clothing that they wear, manage their lifestyle a little better,” said David Dollihite, vice president of U.S. home services for Direct Energy, adding that a chunk of the electricity is wasted.

Experts say this summer is the time to conserve electricity, not just to save money but to reduce the burden on power plants.

Conservation could prevent more rolling blackouts like Texans experienced this week and could reduce the number of power plants that must be built to handle growing demand. Conservation “equates into fewer plants being built, less transmission line being needed, less fossil fuel being burned,” Mr. Dollihite said. “That’s not to say we’re sacrificing our comfort; we’re really just being a little more responsible with our lifestyles.

Since last summer, TXU Energy has increased its benchmark electricity rate, called the “price to beat,” by 24 percent. That rate is based on the price of natural gas, which spiked in the autumn when the hurricanes hit. TXU and other former monopolies reset their prices based on the post-hurricane natural gas rates. Since then, natural gas prices have dropped, but electricity rates have not. Competing retailers also raised their rates close to the benchmark.

Some electricity companies, including TXU Energy, offer discounts to customers who sign longer-term contracts. The higher electricity rates have caused some fuss among Texas legislators this week.

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, introduced a bill to reset the benchmark price to beat based on lower natural gas prices, as well as a bill to fund a low-income discount program.

“This is a critical issue that we have an opportunity to address before things get any worse,” Mr. Turner said. “We are already at the breaking point, and it will just get worse as it gets hotter.”

Mr. Turner is urging Gov. Rick Perry to consider the bill during the special legislative session that began Monday.

Without a break in prices, the best way for Texans to trim their energy bills this summer is to use less electricity. Texans on average use more energy each year, per capita, than residents of most states, and more energy than the average person in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Department. “There are a number of things that folks can do to lighten the load,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group. “You can have a McMansion and save energy.”

Mr. Smith suggests using efficient lighting and having air conditioning systems tuned up for peak performance. For large houses, he suggests zoned electricity systems, so zones can be shut down in areas not being used. And put all air conditioners on a timer to slow down when the house is empty, and fire up again just before folks return home.

He said Public Citizen is urging state policy-makers to meet half of the state’s electricity demand growth with energy efficiency, rather than new power plants. The University of Texas at El Paso switched to energy-efficient light bulbs this year and expects to save $200,000 annually. The school it putting its air conditioners on efficiency timers and expects to save $173,000 a year, said Greg McNicol, associate vice president for facilities management. “We had some real high electric rates out here in El Paso” that prompted the efficiency program, he said.

Some companies are also applying those efficiency tips on a larger scale to save money. Michaels Stores, a crafts retailer, announced this week that it had installed an energy management software system for 655 stores. The company can control store lighting and temperature from a central location, scheduling half the lights to turn on when employees arrive and the rest just in time for customers, said facilities director Kyle Brekke. “Your really help to control your energy demand,” he said, adding that he expected to cut energy use by about 19 percent and save $5 million a year.

Read more about Ambit Energy here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Smoky is a regular contributing editor of Energy Consultants, Inc.  As Founding Consultants of Ambit Energy in Dallas, TX,  Smoky shares information about how to save money and lower your energy bills.  With Ambit Energy's move into the New York energy market there are now more people to show how to lower their energy bills



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