Additional farm electricity customers in California will soon begin paying different rates based on the time of day their energy usage occurs.
Beginning early next year, eligible small and medium-sized agricultural customers in the Southern California Edison Co. service area will be moving to time-of-use electricity rates. The change affects Edison agricultural and agribusiness customers on PA-1, PA-2, GS-1 and GS-2 rates.
Karen Norene Mills, California Farm Bureau Federation associate counsel and director of public utilities, said the change comes in response to a mandate by the California Public Utilities Commission for development of demand-response programs to encourage reduced electricity usage during times of high energy demand.
Time-of-use rates are typically lowest when demand is lowest, with rates reaching their highest levels on weekday afternoons during the summer months, when demand is highest.
Edison is the second of the state's large, investor-owned utilities to institute the rates; Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is currently in the process of transitioning to time-of-use rates, and changes are in the works for San Diego Gas and Electric.
In early 2014, most Edison customers will begin the transition to time-of-use rates.
"Because the transition to TOU rates will only occur after a customer has access to at least 12 months of recorded usage data from an interval meter, typically a newly installed smart meter, not all PA-1 and PA-2 customers will be transitioned to a TOU rate in 2014," Mills said.
Unlike a flat rate, the new system charges different rates depending on the season and the time the energy is used. During the summer months, from June through September, Edison will establish rates based on three periods: on-peak, with the highest energy cost; mid-peak, with medium energy costs; and off-peak,which offers the lowest energy cost. During the winter months, from October through May, only mid-peak and off-peak rates will be in effect.
"Time-of-use rates more accurately reflect the costs of energy at the time it is used. During on-peak periods, there is the greatest demand on the grid," said Russ Garwacki, Southern California Edison director of pricing. "When you shift energy use, if possible, to mid-peak or off-peak periods, you help reduce strain on the grid and are able to save money."
Businesses on an Edison GS-1 or GS-2 rate will start transitioning to time-of-use rates effective Jan. 1. Agricultural businesses on a PA-1 or a PA-2 rate will begin the transition on Feb. 1.
Mills added that Edison's agricultural customers should familiarize themselves with their energy usage and how the change will impact their future energy bills.
"Edison has tools available that should help customers understand what the impacts will be from the switch to time-of-use rates," Mills said, adding that Edison representatives will be available at the Trade Show next week during the CFBF Annual Meeting in Monterey.
Edison has provided online tools it says are intended to help customers make the transition, including an online program known as "My Account," where customers can view their energy usage on a monthly, daily or even hourly basis. The online tool becomes available for customers after 12 months of information from their smart meters is available; customers are transitioned to the time-of-use rate after the meters have accumulated at least 12 months of data.
Customers will be able to see at a glance when and how much energy is being used, Garwacki said. Also, by setting monthly spending goals and automated alerts with "Budget Assistant," a free online tool, he said Edison customers can stay on top of their energy spending.
To learn more and find the online tools intended to help customers manage the transition to time-of-use rates, go to www.sce.com/tou. Edison customers with questions about the upcoming changes may call 866-743-1645 or email TOUsolutions@sce.com.
In the PG&E service area, eligible small and medium-sized agricultural customers began transitioning to time-of-use rates as of this March. PG&E customers who had smart meters installed on their accounts were transitioned from flat rates to mandatory time-of-use rates. Unless a different rate is selected, PG&E customers will transition to AG4A or 4B schedules as appropriate.
PG&E emphasized that the goal of its new rates is to encourage conservation when energy demand is highest. The company said customers who conserve during high-demand periods can save money on their overall electric bills.
(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)