About 2,500 customers have terminated their enrollment in Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.’s PeakRewards program after their air conditioning was cut off for hours during one of the hottest day of the year.
The PeakRewards program was started in 2007 to help customers save money while reducing energy use. The program offsets air conditioner demand during times of “peak” electricity use. The idea behind the program is to help reduce the chance of power outages happening during the summer, as well as giving the customers back a little change.
Customers have the options of cutting air conditioning use during peak times by 50 percent, 75 percent or 100 percent. On top of a free thermostat or switch installed, customers can receive up to $200 a year on bill credits and a bonus at 100 percent cycling, and $1,790 over five years.
But last Friday, service was reduced to the power boxes that control home air conditioning units. That left 350,000 homes deprived of air conditioning for about six hours.
Amy Soobitsky, an Ellicott City resident, said she was unable to override the BGE-supplied box that controls the air conditioning. By 4 p.m. on Friday, the temperature inside her house had reached 91 degrees, she said.
“It was very dangerous,” Soobitsky said. “That’s just shocking they can do that. That box just gave them total control, and I feel like they used that inappropriately.”
Soobitsky said she terminated her enrollment in the PeakRewards program Monday.
“It’s not that big of a savings,” she said. “When you really need the air conditioning, that’s when you don’t get it.”
Since Friday, BGE has received 41,000 calls about the program. In addition to the 2,500 cancellations, 3,500 customers dropped to a lower level of cycling in the program, said BGE Spokeswoman Linda Foy.
“We are certainly taking a step back and looking at the program,” Foy said. “How the emergency event was on Friday, we stand by the program, and it achieving its goal of reducing peak demand. With regard to customer communication, customer education, setting appropriate customer expectations, certainly that’s something we’re going to look at.”
As a result of the emergency activation of the program, 600 megawatts of power was saved, BGE said. The reduction was taken at the direction of PJM Interconnection in Norristown, Pa., the operator of the regional power grid that serves Maryland and other states, according to BGE.
Foy said that the company has one hour to activate the event once the order is given, making it difficult to spread the word to customers beforehand.
Letters will be sent out to customers cycling at 75 percent and 100 percent levels of energy to remind them of their program levels and to give them the option of setting a different level for homes, Foy said.
The Maryland Public Service Commission is reviewing complaints it has received in response to Friday’s event.
“We will address the complaints we’ve received and we can’t comment on what will or won’t happen in response,” said PSC Chairman Douglas R. M. Nazarian in a statement Monday. “We are always monitoring the progress and implementation of PeakRewards and all utility demand response programs. Last week’s heat wave has been the first real test of those programs, and there, undoubtedly, are lessons that we and the companies will learn from this test.”
The PSC had received less than one dozen calls on the issue as of Friday afternoon, but there were additional complaints that were received over the weekend that are being reviewed.
“It’s premature at this point to say whether the programs did or didn’t work as planned, where changes need to be made, or what other steps might be warranted,” Nazarian said in the statement.
BGE customers are also being encouraged by the PSC to contact the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel.