SDG&E slashes enrollment in aircon plan

SDG&E slashes enrollment in air conditioning energy conservation plan

SDGE slashes enrollment in air conditioning energy conservation plan

San Diego Gas & Electric’s program aimed at reducing air conditioning usage during the hottest days of the summer is going through a significant reduction of its own.

The investor-owned utility has culled 6,600 customers from its Summer Saver Program after determining those users’ air conditioning units were providing little or no reduction on days when loads were at their highest.

“Whenever we have programs that are designed for energy efficiency and that are funded from our customers, we want to make sure they are achieving what they set out to do ,” said SDG&E spokeswoman Amber Albrecht.

There are still 20,000 SDG&E customers enrolled in the plan, most of them residential customers. The move marks the first time customers have been cut from the program.

Chris Landry, a Scripps Ranch homeowner who has received a year-end credit on her SDG&E bill through the Summer Saver Program that she estimated at $200 to $400, is skeptical about the utility’s motivations.

“I think the program is costing them too much,” she said.

But Albrecht said the cut came after a cost-benefit review of the Summer Saver Program and was signed off by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

“We redesigned the program because we didn’t want to remove (it) because for the majority of customers who are on it, we are noticing … load reduction,” said Albrecht.

The Summer Saver Program is one of a host of what is called “demand-response” programs that utilities offer as incentives for customers to reduce energy consumption when demands on the system are at their highest.
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The aim is to help increase reliability of California’s power grid and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Rolled out in 2005, the Summer Saver Program offers customers a deal: If they let SDG&E install a device on their air conditioning units that allows the utility to control the unit on selected days during the summer, the customer gets a credit on their bill at the end of the year.

The credit is bigger if customers choose a 100 percent option in which the device shuts off the air conditioning unit during periods of critical peak demand. A smaller, end-of-the-year credit is given if customers choose a 50 percent option.

However, the device will not turn on an air conditioner.

“The program is designed to take AC units that are already running and turn them off at these critical times,” Albrecht said. “If that AC unit isn’t running there’s nothing to turn off and there’s no load reduction.”

The Summer Saver Program runs from May through October and SDG&E says it won’t cycle the air conditioning more than 60 hours during that six-month period.

The size of the credit also depends on the size of the air conditioning units, whose one-hour cooling capacity is measured in tonnage. Generally, one ton will cool a residence of 400 to 700 square feet.

SDG&E pays $27 per ton for a customer enrolled at 100 percent and $10.35 per ton for those enrolled in the 50 percent plan.

Landry, who lives in a two-story, 3,800-square-foot home and signed up for the 100 percent option, said she liked receiving the end-of-the-year credit so when she received a letter from SDG&E last month telling her she was being removed from the program, “I called them immediately,” for an explanation.

After some discussion, Landry was put back onto the plan.

“We’ve been working with each customer individually through our call center to find out what’s the right solution for them,” Albrecht said. Other energy efficiency programs include programmable thermostats and a “smart thermostat” plan that allows SDG&E to control the meter on certain days.

“Instead of dropping people, I think they should just lower whatever they’re giving us” at the end of the year, said Landry.

Albrecht said the review of the Summer Saver Program was done through the “E3 Calculator” used by the CPUC.

“It’s really about saving all of our customers money,” Albrecht said. “It’s our job to really evaluate (how) we are spending these dollars. Is it really resulting in that statewide objective, what our customers are paying for? Are we seeing the results that are needed to preserve the integrity of the power grid during these critical times? And if not, how do we get there?”

To help the state meet its clean energy goals, California’s utilities have been instructed to meet a 5 percent target for demand-response resources by 2020. As of mid-2015, the utilities needed another 640 megawatts of demand-response to meet the goal.

Credit: The San Diego Union-Tribune