Archive for Friday, January 7, 2011

Lawrence can take advantage of smart meters and help community get energy efficiency grants and loans in 2011

January 7, 2011


Westar Energy's SmartStar director Hal Jensen explains the company's new website

Hal Jensen, director of SmartStar programs at Westar Energy talks about the launch of the company's new SmartStar Lawrence website for monitoring energy consumption. Enlarge video

The federal stimulus dollars that have been earmarked for energy efficiency may finally make their way into your home next year. But don’t look for cold hard cash.

2011 will be the year that Lawrence residents can take advantage of smart meters, help the community win a $100,000 energy grant and tap into the state’s energy efficiency loan program.

Thanks to a $19 million grant from the federal government, Westar Energy will be installing smart meters in all Lawrence homes and businesses this year.

Residents will be able to go online and see their energy usage broken down by hourly increments, information that is provided one day later. Customers can also set up text message alerts to warn them when a bill reaches a certain level each month or when there is a power outage.

Starting in January, Westar will install the first 1,500 meters in the Deerfield neighborhood. The rest of the meters will start going up in May. In all, 45,000 will deployed throughout the city.

“There is just a lot of interest in what the technology is, how it works, how it can help improve service,” Hal Jensen, the director of the Lawrence SmartStar program, said at a recent open house in Lawrence.

While customers can choose not to do anything at all with the information these smart meters provide, Westar will begin offering pilot rate plans for those who voluntarily want to participate. The idea is that energy will cost more during the times of day when demand is at its highest and cost less during times of low use.

Along with being the guinea pigs for smart meters, Lawrence will get to participate in another city-wide energy experiment in 2011: the Take Charge Challenge.

Over nine months, Lawrence will compete against Manhattan to see who can conserve the most energy. The winner receives a $100,000 grant that will go toward a public energy efficiency project.

The project will launch on Jan. 29, the same day that Kansas State University men’s basketball team plays Kansas University.

Sponsored by the Climate and Energy Project and the Kansas Energy Office, the contest will measure how the two cities stack up in three categories:

  • Which city has the highest percentage of residents sign up for a home energy audit and then how many homeowners make changes based on the audit.
  • Which community has the highest percentage of residents participate in one of Westar’s energy efficiency programs and change lights to compact fluorescent bulgs.
  • Which city has the highest percentage of residents attend special energy efficiency events.

“The exciting thing about the Take Charge Challenge, we aren’t creating any new programs,” said Eileen Horn, who is the sustainability coordinator for the city of Lawrence and Douglas County.

In 2011, Kansas residents will still be able take advantage of the Efficiency Kansas program. More than a year ago, the state was awarded $38 million from the federal government to implement a revolving loan program, which offered a discounted energy audit and then a low-interest loan through a bank or utility company to make the improvements needed to improve the home’s energy efficiency.

In the months to come, Lawrence residents will want to keep an eye on Westar’s application that would allow customers to take out an Efficiency Kansas loan and then repay it through their utility bill. The program has 19 other utilities throughout the state that participate in the program. The Kansas Corporation Commission has to approve Westar’s application.

The once- fledgling program has seen its numbers jump recently with more than 350 audits completed and more than $750,000 worth of low-interest loans made.

“In the last three months, it has really taken off,” said Ray Hammarlund, director of the Kansas Energy Office, the agency overseeing the revolving loan program.


beerbaron03 7 years, 5 months ago

why is the government so interested in what citizens are doing with their electricity? something fishy is going on here...

Paul Geisler 7 years, 5 months ago

If they want I'm pretty sure the gov't can already determine what you're doing with your electricity! This is so you as a consumer can see first-hand how appliances in your home consumer different amounts of electricity and make adjustments to your usage to reduce waste.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

Simply reading the wattage of your appliances and using a calculator can do the same thing.

Kat Christian 7 years, 5 months ago

Oh I so AGREE with you Beerbaron03...Friends of mind (in another state) had this smart meter and they said not only does it create more work for the consumer monitoring it and calculating your usage, but they were over they canceled it. They way they overcharge is so hidden if you don't know how to calculate your usage you'll not see the difference. This whole thing smell like rotten limberger cheese if you ask me.

irvan moore 7 years, 5 months ago

most places that have smart meters aren't happy with them, our city didn't do us any favors with this.

beerbaron03 7 years, 5 months ago

i read a study that said the smart meters are poorly engineered and tend to catch fire.

kernal 7 years, 5 months ago

Beerbaron, I only Googled the first four pages about smart meters and didn't see anything stating they tend to catch fire. Where did you see that information?

puddleglum 7 years, 5 months ago

suspicious. why would a utility company try to sell less of its product?

"The idea is that energy will cost more during the times of day when demand is at its highest "

oh I see now: this way they can charge more money for the same product, just whenever people need it.

If only Mcdonald's was a monopoly, they'd do the same thing...Imagine: you want a hamburger at 6:00am? yum yum $2.50 how about noon? yeah kid, everybody wants that, so we'll charge $5.00 how about 2 am when you are sleeping? $.80
smart meters? well, whatever. raising the rate arbitrarily? FOUL! this is a crock and it MUST not be allowed to happen.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

I'm disappointed that everybody in town will have one of these, whether we want it or not.

I thought the pilot program was going to be put into place, and then we could see how it works, and decide for ourselves.

Kat Christian 7 years, 5 months ago

That's what I thought too. But seems this article stated we have a choice to decline the meter, however, it will cost us if we do. So in essence they are forcing us to do this.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

I didn't see anything about being able to decline the meter, or any charge if we do.

The only thing I saw in the article was that we can not do anything with the information they provide.

I may have to call Westar to get more information - I'd prefer to not have one of these at all, and our electric usage is already quite low compared with most people.

And none has a good point - AC is the largest use, and it wouldn't make sense to have it off during the day if you're around, but on at night when it's cooler anyway.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

What's your point?

How will these meters affect any of the things you mention, and in what direction?

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

I generally agree.

And have been saying so all along, so I don't know why you posted your comment after one of mine.

lgreen17 7 years, 5 months ago

Wow, and Anthony Brown thinks Lawrence is liberal (ie progressive). These comment would indicate otherwise.

letsgetwise 7 years, 5 months ago

I went to Westar's site, to look a little further at this. My question, is the Wattsaver program connected to the Smart Star program? In the info about the Wattsaver program, you get a professionally installed internet accessible thermostat for "free". With the THERMOSTAT, Westar could "toggle" the usage of the electricity at peak times of the day, for instance in July or August when it is so hot. Right now, the THERMOSTAT is optional. I cannot find where all this is connected, but it does make me curious how much real control is being given without basically any input from us the customers. Doesn't necessarily make all of this "bad", but definitely the perception of "Big Brother" comes to mind.

Rae Hudspeth 7 years, 5 months ago

Do any of you bright stars know anything about the meters you already have?
Could you read it? How does it work? How can it work for you?

don't know? Well, then, why.. would a newer meter make any difference to you?

Humans are so resistant to change.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

We're already quite mindful about our electric usage, and use much less than most people.

I'd prefer not to change it, and am not interested in Westar being able to more precisely monitor our use - it's not really their business.

Also, much of the usage is not easily shifted, as none points out, without significant discomfort - how many people want to do their laundry in the middle of the night?

2thinkitout 7 years, 5 months ago

.....Westar will begin offering pilot rate plans for those who voluntarily want to participate....

What this means is that eventually Westar will remotely control your use of electricity. Say no and you'll be rewarded with substantially higher rates. Westar will exert its control over both your wallet and your comfort. No? Look at what is happening to our neighbors in the state to our west.

George Lippencott 7 years, 5 months ago

If done properly this approach will allow the computer literate among us to better understand our power usage and adjust accordingly. In KCPL territory, the meters come with thermostats that allow response to usage date. That is on the order of goodness if done properly.

If the initiative leads to differential pricing, it could penalize a bunch of innocent people while rewarding our corporate oppressors. It bears watching. WESTAR already wants to be paid for the energy we do not use because we make wise decisions on our usage.

nut_case 7 years, 5 months ago

It may come under the guise of "rate savings" but before long we'll be turning our houses over to the power company just to break even on the rates.

kubmg 7 years, 5 months ago

For the "big brother" types, utilty company's have access to your usage now. They can also turn you off at anytime right now; take a look outside and you'll see what's called a transformer.

This meter provides the consumer with more data. The great thing is it's up to you if you'd like to take advantage of it.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

It's already easy to know how much you use each month - just read your bill.

It's also easy to know when you're using it a lot, if you think about it - AC is the largest user, followed by refrigerators, washers/dryers, dishwashers,...

Much usage is not easily shifted - you need the AC when it's hot, most people want to do laundry, etc. during the day.

And, if the point is cost savings, then Westar could simply create different charges for different times, and inform people, and then they can modify their activities if they like.

I see no need for these.

George Lippencott 7 years, 5 months ago

JAFS They have to be able to measure your time dependent usage - the meter does that. Differential pricing as you suggest can be good or bad. There are those who are home duting those hot August days who will get socked because they can not turn the setting down as far a a family where everyone is gone. Also as currently invisioned the differential procing only affests residential users - corporate users can get cheaper rates and not be charged differential rates. Not sure that is the best way to do this

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

I'm not suggesting the differential pricing, and I'm not at all sure it's a good idea, for exactly your reasons.

I was only suggesting that they could do that without the smart meters if they wanted to.

Why do they have to be able to measure my time dependant usage, as you suggest? Don't they know what peak time usage hours are already?

classclown 7 years, 5 months ago

Westar will begin offering pilot rate plans for those who voluntarily want to participate


Will this lead to Westar selling energy packages with x amount of anytime minutes and x amount of nightime minutes per month?

Extra minutes charged at 50 cents per minute?

Will consumers need to sign a two year contract?

Ken Lassman 7 years, 5 months ago

So you would rather have them build a high priced natural gas fired plant to kick on 3 days a year during the summer heat wave and jack up your bill to finance it just so you don't have to think about it? Give me a meter, thanks.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

That's fine.

But I don't want one, and already conserve energy quite a bit - why can't I opt out?

And, without monitoring individual usage this precisely, I'm sure they can tell when peak usage occurs, since they have to provide enough energy for those times and monitor the electric grid - if they want to encourage conservation, they can do so without these meters.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 5 months ago

I suspect not able to opt out has everything to do with keeping it simple and nothing to do with big brother. Since this is a pilot project, they are going to be collecting data on how this all pans out and they don't want the headache of sifting through the data to sort out regular meter/smart meter. Being able to count every meter in Lawrence makes it far easier to analyze.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 5 months ago

Remember how an independent investigator said last week that the millions of smart meters being installed across Northern California by Pacific Gas & Electric were not malfunctioning and overcharging customers, even though a lawsuit against PG&E and over 1,300 customers claimed they were?

Now the San Jose Mercury News says it’s collected dozens of complaints on its Action Line from readers who claim that the wireless smart meters interfere with their household electronics — cordless phones, crib monitors, patio speakers, wireless headsets and microphones, home security systems, motion detectors and remote-controlled garage doors — as the meters transmit their power data back to the mother ship.

PG&E, which was dinged for poor customer service, told the newspaper that the problems are not with the smart meters, but with all the other wireless equipment their customers have. Here, a PG&E spokesman advises one customer to get a refund on the baby monitor:

Richard Heckler 7 years, 5 months ago

"I wrote last November about a rollout in my city to upgrade everybody’s power meters to the “smart” kind which should allow the power companies to operate and communicate remotely with our electricity. They should also enable us consumers to have more data about which devices in the house waste the most energy.

It appears that in the first month after some people got upgraded, their electric bills went up much higher than normal, in some cases twice as much as the previous month. I heard reports on the radio of electric bills up to $500 or $1,000.

Oncor, the company who is foisting the new meters on us, has offered a few different explanations and initially denied that there was anything faulty with the meters:

* people are using more electricity due to record cold temperatures
* the old meters were actually running too slowly, and the new meters are more accurate
* 75% of the people complaining about higher bills don’t even have the new meters yet
* Oncor has tested thousands of meters and hasn’t found a fault in any of them
* sometimes when the installer reads the old meter, he/she makes a mistake

Yesterday the Texas Public Utility Commission agreed to hire a third-party tester to see if they can find any problems. The hilarious-but-not-really part about that is:

Eventually, the commission might hike electric delivery rates for all consumers to pay for the program.

So, we’re paying $2.12 per month for eleven years for the new meters, we’re paying higher rates, and we might be paying to find out if the higher rates are fake or not."

Flap Doodle 7 years, 5 months ago

You are forgetting that attribution thing, merrill. Plagiarism makes the baby Al Gore cry.

pooter 7 years, 5 months ago

Our thanks go out to Westar Energy for taking 19 million of our dollars our children and grandchildren will have to repay.

And lets not forget to thank Washington for stealing it from them to just give away in the first place.


Zachary Stoltenberg 7 years, 5 months ago

The purpose of these things is two fold, and both of them are flawed. Neither one of them is about being "green" or "environmentally friendly" or "saving consumers money." It is, however, all about saving / making WorstStar more money.

The first purpose is to reduce or eliminate staff. No more meter readers, no more fix it crews. The smart meters are supposed to allow them to track what areas have power during outages and remotely track the best way to get it back on. This has never worked in a real life application of these things ANYWHERE. As a result, WorstStar will likely lay hundreds of folks off and 6 months to a year down the road realize the error of their ways. I spoke with several WestStar employees (linemen) regarding the switch and they are not happy about it. Can kind of see the ax falling. No machine can or will ever replace a real set of eyes when it comes to problems.

Thee second part is absolutely about dollars. What WorstStar will have the ability to do is charge you more during "peak" usage times. So when you get home from work and want to turn on your electric range to cook dinner, your going to pay extra because it's during a time when everyone is trying to cook dinner. You can forget about doing a load of laundry, turning on any lights in your home, and God forbid you run the air-conditioner. The smart meter can be tied into your electric panel as well, allowing WorstStar to remotely turn off those appliances whether you like it or not. Even if you wanted to turn on your oven, you can't, there's no electricity going to it during "peak" times. This unconstitutional invasion of privacy is the single biggest fight with these things. Now WorstStar says they don't immediately have plans to do this but I view it as a slippery slope. I'm not going to give them an inch.

The bottom line is, this is a fine example of "mining the government." There is nothing wrong with the existing system and it's an incredible waste of resources to install hundreds of new big brother meters to replace ones that are in fine working order. Every municipality that has tried these has regretted it, many have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to take the systems out after only a few years. It simply doesn't work. It's a lot like Communism, looks like it should work in theory but practical application reflects miserable failure. The liberal Hippie Dips in Lawrence are just gullible enough to allow this stupid program. Mark my words, it will never make it. Once people find out what it's really about, there will be a revolt of the ages. LJWorld, how about an article on the other side of this argument instead of the continued proliferation of propaganda on behalf of WestStar. Your really starting to look like a tool of the corporations. That's not what Journalists should be!

Ken Lassman 7 years, 5 months ago

OK, so folks are saying that Smart meters are going to make rates go up? Wake up, folks: rates are going to go up, smart meters or not.

Don't believe in renewables, climate change, or cutting energy use? Then build more power plants--lots of them. Result: rate hikes to pay for the new plants.

Believe in renewables, climate change and in cutting energy use? Then build more windmills, solar, etc. Result: rate hikes to pay for the wind and solar

How about an economic collapse? That'll drop energy consumption, and, you guessed it: rate hikes to pay for the decreased revenue needed to pay off loan debts of the utilities.

Don't blame the smart meters, folks. Rate hikes are guaranteed to be in your future--poke around for yourself if you don't believe me. Personally, give me a smart meter so I can have the hope of using my brain about my energy use and cash in on the reality that most households can save 20% in their household energy consumption if they paid more attention. That's the only way you're going to avoid a rate hike--guaranteed!

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

You don't pay attention and conserve energy already? What will the meters do that will change that?

Our energy/water/etc. use is much lower than most, and has been for some time - we do that by being mindful, setting our thermostat at 67-68 in winter, 55 at night, and about 77 in summer, and not using the systems in spring and fall if they're not needed, etc.

Anybody can do all of this right now, and has been able to do so for many years.

It seems to me that if Westar wants to reduce peak demand, and they/we want to prevent a rate hike, all that would be necessary is to start charging a bit more for peak usage times, which they undoubtedly know already.

Why do we need the meters?

Central air and refrigerators are the two single largest electricity users - people want to use the AC when it's hot out, and refrigerators need to run all of the time. It would be very difficult for most people to change their habits in regard to these heavy users.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 5 months ago

There are a lot of folks who are ignorant of doing anything with their thermostats except turning it up in the winter when they are cold, and turning it down in the summer when it's hot. You forgot to mention their hot water heaters, a significant energy user which many folks don't even know have thermostats.

Of course you can save energy without a fancy meter that breaks down your energy use patterns. But my point is that when folks start writing significantly bigger checks to Westar due to the inevitable rate hikes, this will at least give them some more tools to reduce their energy use, especially if we get differential energy prices for peak electricity and the like.

Seeing how much energy an old refrigerator or window AC unit or poorly insulated hot water heater is using might influence the kind of replacement appliance they get when the old one wears out, or even not wait until then and take advantage of the cost savings and tax breaks for going out tomorrow and getting a more energy efficient model. Most folks are attracted toward doing the same thing with less energy and paying for it with tax breaks and lower operating costs, and the meters should help make that case, don't you think?

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

If people want to know how much energy something uses, all it takes is looking at the appliance and using a calculator.

If people are interested in reducing their consumption, they can do that now - if they're interesting in buying more energy efficient appliances, likewise.

It seems to me that people are generally either interested in these things and aware of them, or not so much - it's hard to believe a meter will change that much.

The folks who are ignorant already have the feedback of monthly bills, which apparently doesn't affect their activities much.

If money is the motivation, then a rate hike and/or differential pricing will affect them more than these meters. And, folks who already pay attention will be fine as well.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 5 months ago

You hit the nail on the head: most folks are not currently interested in energy savings, because the rates are not going into the stratosphere--yet. It's also because folks just haven't been educated about the importance of energy efficiency, both because of how much you could be keeping in your pocketbook, and also because of the costs of adding more power plants to the grid (and this cuts both ways: the cost of high priced gas fired plants if you don't care about climate change, or the cost of high priced clean coal/wind/solar plants if you do).

Folks don't need to have those fancy gas consumption gauges as part of their car dashboards--all you need is to calculate your mileage every time you fill up. But those folks who have those fancy meters are much more apt to modify the way they drive more effectively simply because they see a running picture of what that last acceleration did, and what happens when they accelerate more gently the next time.

Exactly the same with these meters.

Jake Hess 7 years, 5 months ago

If smart meters really do double or very least significantly hike rates, sounds like Westar is taking an early dip on projected rate inflation. Business as usual!

Keith 7 years, 5 months ago

"The smart meter can be tied into your electric panel as well, allowing WorstStar to remotely turn off those appliances whether you like it or not."

Funniest post so far today.

Zachary Stoltenberg 7 years, 5 months ago

"These meters are being mandated on the national level as part of the “national smart grid” which is an attempt to provide more evenly distributed electricity. When heavier than normal loads occur, like when air conditioners are all on in the summer, PG&E would not need to build more “peaker plants” to accommodate peak usage, but instead could remotely turn off appliances as the grid might require. It’s also financially beneficial to PG&E because smart meters will eliminate the meter-reader jobs.."

A sampling of what happened in California. Do some reading before running your mouth.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

Good point about renters.

Although even when renting, we paid attention to our energy use because we believe in conserving energy, and it costs less as well.

unite2revolt 7 years, 5 months ago

I expect that shortly after these things are installed Westar will ask the state to let them charge extra for peak hour use, which they will now be able to monitor on a regular basis.

melott 7 years, 5 months ago

One thing you can do is to switch over to natural gas for as much as possible: hot water, clothes drying, cooking, and if not already there, heating. It will save money anyway, and take business away from WorstStar.

Scott Morgan 7 years, 5 months ago

How much of your private life are you folks willing to give up? Seat belts were once an option. Remember comrades.

Could this happen?

Jan. 2014. Mr. Resident. We see your Dillons/HyVee account shows 2 dozen doughnuts purchased for house number 5433 during our 30 day audit.

Your Federal Healthy Center reports a gain of 5 lbs over your prescribed tolerable government wt. during your last Net Check.

You also used 15 gallons of fuel, and went over the maximum recommended household power use. Due to fossil fuel shortages drives in the country are strictly forbidden until further notice.

Please note your automobile has been disabled for 14 days. Your future non life threatening surgery account has had 1322 points deducted. The temperature in your home has been turned down to 65 until further notice.

Remember if you think this note has been sent in error report any problems to the Kansas Dept. of Revenue immediately. Do your part in helping us Green Up Lawrence, January is turn in a piggy month. Receive 25 gallons of fresh water for every citizen turned in for overuseage suspicion.

Please disregard this notice if a government employee.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 5 months ago

So you think seatbelts should be optional? Why? Should picking you up and taking you to the hospital because you were thrown from the car be optional? Or writing off your hospital bills because you don't have insurance either be optional? Should having car insurance be optional too? And why should you give up the right to drink and drive?

We all give up something to live in a society--it's called the social contract. While it is our responsibility to make sure that we don't give up too many of our freedoms, I think that a smart meter gives me tools to snub my nose at Westar and cut back on the profits that they make on my energy waste. I can reap the benefits of this without having to go along with the measures that you outline in your 1984-like scenario. Why not push for more local ownership of the power grid and promote locally controlled distributed energy grids instead?

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

If they institute differential pricing, you can also easily cut back on their profits by simple lifestyle changes if possible - there's no need for the meters.

If the changes aren't easy, like not using AC when it's hot outside, then the meters won't affect that either way.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 5 months ago

But smart meters will allow you to experiment with what options you are willing to put into practice. For instance, will running the attic fan in the afternoon allow me to shut off the AC in the evening and if so, will it save me any money? Or, what if I put pieces of foam into my windows at night in the winter--how much money will I save vs. the hassle factor?

Sorting out the results of these kinds of experiments will be much, much easier than the current system. In fact, I don't know if you can do those experiments at all right now, unless you do them for an entire month, calculate the heating degree days for that time and somehow calibrate it with the previous/following month's HDD, etc. Not practical at all.

KS 7 years, 5 months ago

When the government pays for my water and or electric bill, then and only then, should they tell me how much and when to use it. Until then, it is incandescent lights for me. This is part of the problem in Washington, DC. Nanny state.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

If you're willing to be personally responsible for the environmental effects of your consumption, then I say fine.

Otherwise, since we're all paying for that in a variety of ways, it's not just your business.

Jay Keffer 7 years, 5 months ago

Question for jafs - since when is it okay for the government to restrict my purchase of a perfectly legal product? I pay for what I consume, and how I consume it is my business. I see no laws, regulations, or any other restriction that says I cannot consume the way I see fit what comes out of the socket in my house.

Kinda like the nonsense of restricting happy meals in San Francisco. Why can't I as an adult determine what I feed my kids? It is a perfectly legal product and I have a choice. Or did. Why should the government step in and take over for me?

Get the government out of our lives, please!

As a subtopic, I agree with KS, only incandescents for me until they make a cheap LED bulb. I get enough of the fluorescent glare at work.

littlexav 7 years, 5 months ago

if you read anything about what's going on, you'd know that this is not the government restricting anything.

utilities are trying to avoid building new power plants by encouraging conservation. if they have to build more plants, they will end up recovering the cost of those plants through HIGHER rates.

this works out for everyone - the consumer and the utility. the government (the KANSAS corporation commission) is facilitating this. the federal government has nothing to do with this.

all the conspiracy theorists are so ill informed...

irvan moore 7 years, 5 months ago

the headline shoud be that smart meters will take advantage of Lawrence.

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