It's still possible to get a deal on BGE power

June 10, 2007|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,Sun Columnist

Worried about the 50 percent price increase for BGE electricity that took effect June 1? Here's where to buy juice for less - and save maybe $200 a year or more.

It's not from alternative vendors such as Commerce Energy or Washington Gas Energy Services. Their offerings are even more expensive than BGE's standard household product these days.

Instead, the best deal comes from Baltimore Gas and Electric itself.

But there's a catch. You have to use electricity late at night or on weekends and holidays.

Starting this month, BGE has increased the discounts available on weekend electricity and on weekday nighttime use, partly correcting a problem that began a year ago.

Although the electricity market is riddled with problems, transferring consumption to such "off-peak" periods offers households at least one tactic besides cutting total use to reduce the pain of the price increase.

And it might help avoid brownouts, blackouts and higher future costs associated with building generators to meet peak weekday demand.

It's hardly a midnight madness sale. But until October, the 90,000 households on BGE's "time of use" plan will save 22 percent on kilowatts burnt from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., compared with the round-the-clock rate that most people pay. From October through May such clients will get discounts of 11 percent, with the cheapest juice starting to flow at 9 p.m. instead of 11 p.m.

As mentioned, such reductions apply 24 hours a day on weekends and holidays, too.

(I'm measuring savings as a portion of the combined BGE electricity supply and delivery charges. I'm not including an extra service charge of $4.50 a month for time-of-use customers because it's largely offset by a lower delivery charge. For a breakdown of all costs by season and time of day, see my blog at: baltimoresun.com/hancockblog.)

BGE's time-of-use plan also offers summertime discounts for "intermediate" periods between peak and off-peak. From June through September, intermediate savings (weekdays 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.) are 13 percent off the price that non-time-of-use customers pay.

It's far from being a silver bullet, however. Households have to sign up for time of use (410-685-0123), commit for a year and operate appliances during discount hours to make it pay off.

One downside is that people who take advantage of cheaper after-hours juice pay more for some weekday electricity than regular customers - 35 percent more in summertime. For non-summer months, even intermediate hours (weekdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.) are slightly more expensive.

The idea is to give residences strong incentives to move consumption to times when electricity demand - and thus wholesale electricity prices and stress on the grid - is lower.

BGE's savings for off-peak use still aren't what they were before 2006. However, officials expect after-hours discounts to improve in coming years as the company rolls out "smart meters" that more closely match retail and wholesale prices.

Even now, though, an alert and motivated household can save money.

If you run your clothes dryer four hours a week, your monthly cost is more than $13 under the summer BGE prices that took effect June 1. (All households, even if they're not on time-of-use, pay higher prices in summer.) But if you sign up for time of use and run the dryer on weekends or after 11 p.m., you save $3.

Switch use of your dishwasher and clothes washer to off-peak periods, and you'll save more. An electric water heater will boost off-peak savings from those appliances even higher. You might shift the charging of shavers, cell phones and iPods to nighttime and weekends, too. Electric heat especially boosts the chances of saving money.

Pool pumps, which don't need to run perpetually, are no-brainers for off-peak operation. All these devices often come with timers, so you can set them to run at 2 a.m.

Fanatics can start taking midnight showers and do the ironing to Jay Leno, too. Yes, it's kind of frantic and undignified. No, it doesn't remove the sting of BGE's price increase. No, you can't run all your appliances at night.

But for the right customers, time-of-use metering can increase control over their bill. And it's part of a long-term electricity solution. In a state where the supply of electricity basically hasn't grown in years, we have to do something to reduce peak demand. Discounts for off-peak use are one way to do it.

jay.hancock@baltsun.com

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