Westar Energy Inc. encourages its customers to use a little energy to learn a lot about potential savings that can reduce charges on their monthly electric bills.
And more programs are on the way.
The Topeka-based utility, which serves Lawrence-area customers and operates the Lawrence Energy Center at the northern edge of town, offers power-saving tips and information in the Efficiency Center posted on the company's Web site, www.westarenergy.com.
At the site, customers can click onto calculators that can show how much energy is used by customers at their homes or businesses. That information then can be compared to what usage and billing levels would be after certain energy-efficient changes are made.
"That can be a great thing," said Gina Penzig, a Westar spokeswoman. "If you're thinking about replacing windows, you can see what your payback period is for that."
Like other utilities nationwide, Westar finds itself looking for ways to reduce the need for building more generating plants. Westar already is spending $318 million for the Emporia Energy Center, to add 600 megawatts of generating capacity; the project is scheduled to come online in two phases: first, in May 2008, and the second in the spring of 2009.
Westar intends to launch two pilot programs next year to see about encouraging customers to conserve energy, or at least switch usage patterns so that it's more efficient for the utility.
Westar plans to select a community for a voluntary program in which customers could have monitors in their homes, indicating how much energy they would be using - along with the cost for the electricity - in real time.
"When demand is high, and the cost to produce is higher, the customer may decide that they may wait to run that dishwasher until the night," Penzig said.
Another program is being discussed that would put so-called "smart" thermostats in homes, so that Westar could control when an air conditioner or water heater would be running. The utility could send an electronic signal to each device, instructing it to cycle on and off in an effort to relieve demand during peak periods.
Such devices also could control heaters in swimming pools.
"It would be a voluntary program," Penzig said. "Nobody would have to do it unless they wanted to do it."
Plans for the pilot programs are part of Westar's ongoing efforts to educate customers about energy use. The company recently established an Energy Efficiency Department to create such programs and find creative solutions, moves intended to allow both the utility and its customers to enjoy the mutual benefits of informed electricity usage.
It's all a sign of the times, Penzig said.
"We're seeing a growth in population, our customer growth is increasing, and the amount of energy our customers are using is growing as well," Penzig said. "We have more TV sets; everybody has a computer, possibly more than one. You're plugging in your cell phone.
"All these gadgets add up."