At Brunswick EMC (BEMC), serving members in parts of Brunswick, Columbus, Bladen and Robeson counties, our members have told us that what they want most from their electric cooperative is reliability and affordability. That’s why we’re continually forecasting, planning and building a system that is robust and developing new ways to control costs. One such effort allows us all to work together to lower peak electricity demand every month – and in turn, lower costs to benefit every co-op member.
Demand is the rate of flow of electricity through our system, and it has a significant impact on wholesale power costs. The BEMC system peaks at the times of highest energy use, and the rate we pay for wholesale power each month is partly based on the highest single hour of peak demand during that month. If we can lower that peak hour, we reduce our wholesale power bill, have less expense to pass on to members and can mitigate future rate increases.
It’s intuitive that if we can lower the peak demand during the hottest and coldest months, we can save money, but peak reduction also applies in temperate months in the spring and fall. That’s why BEMC members receive ‘Beat the Peak’ alerts year-round; they’re a signal that a system peak is approaching, and we should all reduce energy use during that time.
Trimming peak demand saves all BEMC members in another significant way. Greater system peaks require more capacity, which leads to extensive system upgrades. If we can work together to reduce peak demand, we can avoid, or delay, expensive upgrades to our infrastructure, and our power supplier can, too. Ultimately, we could avoid or delay the building of new power generating plants.
At BEMC, we’ll continue to develop new ways we can work together to reduce peak demand because some strategies fit some members better than others. For those who can delay energy use to off-peak hours, our Time-of-Use rate can significantly reduce power bills each month, and the entire cooperative benefits. Members can also join a program that allows the co-op to occasionally adjust the setting on their programmable thermostat. These adjustments will not impact comfort, and though members may not see a drastic reduction in their bills, they will help fend off future rate increases associated with system upgrades.
Because we are a cooperative, there truly is power in numbers. You might think that turning off a light bulb during a peak won’t make a difference, but consider this example. If each of BEMC’s 98,000 members turned off just one 60-watt light bulb during the peak hour, savings could potentially reach almost $100,000 each month. Changing your thermostat three degrees or more during a Beat the Peak alert is ideal, but if you can’t do that, then one degree will still make a difference. The most important thing to remember is that by helping to reduce peak demand each and every month, BEMC members have the potential to lower their bills and delay capacity-related infrastructure upgrades and future rate increases. Working together benefits us all.
Lewis Shaw is Vice President of Engineering & Operations at Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation. His column is part of a series sharing perspectives from experts at electric cooperatives across the state on how co-ops are innovating to meet the needs of members and build a Brighter Future for North Carolina.