Those of you who wait until the middle of the night to dial your far-away friends to save money on your phone bills will now have something to do while you make cheap long distance phone calls: your laundry.
Borrowing an idea from telephone companies, state regulators have ordered Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. to install in all houses built after Jan. 1, 1991, special meters that will charge residents different rates for electricity at different times of the day.
Under the program, rates for electricity used in the middle of the night will be about half of the old all-day rate, which is about 8 cents a kilowatt hour. But electricity used in the middle of summer days will cost about twice the standard rate.
BG&E said yesterday that it expects to install the new, digital meters on about 12,000 new houses a year.
Owners of existing houses may volunteer for the program, called "time-of-use billing," but the vast majority of the 922,000 residential customers of Maryland's largest utility probably will keep the traditional system, which charges the same rate through the day. In the two years that BG&E has accepted volunteers for the program, about 9,000 homeowners have tried it.
The state Public Service Commission approved the plan without a public hearing because it was not supposed to increase or decrease theaverage bill. But BG&E said yesterday that the average monthly bill of the volunteers has declined 6 percent to 9 percent.
Such time-of-use billing is already mandatory for BG&E's 99,000 commercial customers. And a similar plan is about to be instituted for homes in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, customers of Potomac Electric Power Co., that are heavy users of electricity.
State utility regulators said yesterday that they are pushing area utilities to institute the new billing because they want to avoid construction of costly new power plants.
If the new billing system prompts customers to turn off lights and appliances during hot summer days when the region's generators areoverloaded, it might help the utilities avoid building expensive new generators to accommodate peak hours.
John Glynn, the attorney appointed by the state to represent consumers in utility matters, said he approved of the plan but that he thought the state could do more to force the utilities to encourage customers to conserve energy.
Edwin Skoglin, manager for marketing and energy services for BG&E, said the utility estimates that the new billing program will cut 43 megawatts from the peak electricity load by the turn of the century. A megawatt is enough power to light 10,000 100-watt light bulbs.
BG&E will charge the users of the new meters $10 a month. Customers with regular meters currently pay $3.50 a month. The new meters cost about $150, the old ones about $40.