OPPD program will offer bill credits to customers with ‘smart’ thermostats

So-called “smart” thermostats can learn how fast your house loses cool air in the summer — or warm air in the winter — and the Omaha Public Power District plans to tap into that knowledge as part of a new program designed to keep a lid on electricity demand when it’s at its highest.

OPPD customers with Nest thermostats in their homes who enroll in Nest’s “Rush Hour Rewards” program will get a one-time, $100 bill credit in addition to a $20 annual bill credit for participating.

Its official launch is Dec. 5.

Through the program and Nest’s Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats, OPPD will manage participating residential ratepayers’ air conditioners between noon and 9 p.m. from May through October.

Here’s how it will work:

» Nest will notify participants through the Nest app or via email two hours before a high-demand period, or “Rush Hour,” begins.

» One hour before the thermostat adjusts to lessen electricity demand, it will pre-cool participants’ homes to make sure residents stay comfortable.

» During the “Rush Hour,” thermostats will be remotely adjusted for a period not to exceed four hours.

OPPD plans to initiate the program a maximum of 15 days per summer, with no more than three events per week and no more than one event per day. No holidays or weekends will be managed.

And if participants get too hot, they can override the program.

“We’re seeing a relatively flat load and it’s because of these technologies that have come into play that have reduced energy consumption even though we see growth in our service territory,” OPPD President and Chief Executive Tim Burke said last week during the program’s introduction at the utility’s monthly board meeting.

For now, Nest is the only such product that qualifies for OPPD’s new thermostat program. But the utility will consider expanding the pool of qualifying thermostats once requests for proposals from other manufacturers begin coming back, said Jay Anderson, project director for OPPD’s Power Forward Initiative.

Anderson said there are an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 Nest customers in Omaha.

“Obviously, they may not all sign up, but we’re hoping they do,” he said.

If the new program sounds familiar, it’s because OPPD already has one through which it uses mechanical timers to cycle residents’ air conditioners on and off for 15-minute intervals during high-demand periods.

That program, known as Cool Smart, and the Nest program are part of OPPD’s portfolio of demand-side management efforts; these and other initiatives aim to reduce electricity demand by 300 megawatts by 2023.

Cool Smart has already knocked out 60 megawatts of that goal.

But why would an electric company promote a product that curtails electric usage rather than encouraging it?

The short answer: It’s cost-effective.

By reducing demand during peak hours, OPPD is able to accommodate more growth and save on costs by not having to build or purchase additional generating or transmission capacity.

That was part of the appeal for Kansas City Power & Light, which has shipped out close to 30,000 Nest thermostats to its Missouri ratepayers since it launched its own program in April 2016, a spokeswoman said. Its aim is to get to 35,000 units, which it is giving out for free.

But KCP&L has another motivator: a 2009 state legislative mandate that promotes energy efficiency and lets utilities earn a profit on electricity saved as a result of programs like the one with Nest.

In other OPPD board business last week, new board member Mark Treinen took his oath of office. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts appointed Treinen to replace former OPPD director Rich Hurley, who died in September.

OPPD directors also heard a proposed 2018 budget. They will vote on the $1.1 billion proposal at the Dec. 14 meeting.

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