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With one simple step, Evanstonians can save money, help the environment, and support an important local environmental organization.

ComEd is seeking to enroll 200 additional Evanston customers (roughly double the current number) in its Residential Real-Time Pricing (RRTP) program by the end of May. If the community meets this challenge, ComEd will award $1,000 to the Evanston Environmental Association.

Real-Time Pricing

Ordinarily, consumers pay a fixed price per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity, no matter what time of day they use the power. But in fact, electricity prices fluctuate widely throughout the day. With real-time pricing, the rate the consumer pays varies from hour to hour according to the actual price of electricity on the wholesale market at the time the power is used.

Customers enrolling in the program receive a new meter that records usage in hourly intervals. A $2.25 monthly fee is assessed for this more sophisticated meter.

Program participants are notified the evening before – by email, text message, or automated phone call – when prices for the next day are expected to reach or be higher than a pre-determined threshold (currently 14¢/kWh). An alert is also sent on the day itself whenever the real-time price reaches or exceeds the high-price threshold. Participants can also check the current real-time price and get day-ahead projections online anytime at www.thewattspot.com.

Participants Can Save

Most of the time, the hourly price is lower than the standard, fixed-price residential rate. Hourly prices are generally lowest at night time and on weekends – and throughout the day during the fall, winter, and spring. But during the summer months, especially on steamy weekday afternoons, electricity prices can soar.

RRTP participants can save money by changing their usage habits. During peak periods when the price is high, they can shift the use of high-demand appliances (e.g., dishwashers, laundry machines) to times when prices are low and cut back on other high-energy appliances like air conditioners.

Although savings are not guaranteed, ComEd reports that, between 2007 and 2009, 98 percent of all current RRTP participants paid less since they enrolled than they would have under the fixed-price rate. Participants who were in the RRTP program the entire year saved an average of 15 percent in 2009. The program is particularly beneficial for ComEd customers with monthly electricity bills of more than $80/month.

RRTP Helps the Environment

By shifting and curtailing their electrical consumption, RRTP participants help lower demand during peak times so that less electricity has to be generated. This helps reduce the need to draw electricity from “peaker plants” – natural-gas-fired generators that provide power during peak periods when base load nuclear power plants cannot meet demand. Not only are natural-gas-burning plants more expensive sources of electricity, they also generate substantial amounts of global warming pollution.

Evanstonians Can Help

If 200 ComEd customers in Evanston enroll in the RRTP program by the end of May, the Evanston Environmental Association will receive a $1,000 grant from ComEd. The EEA provides financial support for the Evanston Ecology Center and advocates for environmental and ecological issues of importance to the Evanston community. The organization works to expand the community’s enjoyment and understanding of nature and to bring about the wise use of natural resources through environmental education for people of all ages.

Local residents will have an opportunity to learn more about the RRTP program at a Summer Energy Workshop, to be held at the Evanston Public Library on May 26 at 6:30 pm. Attendees will learn low-cost and no-cost strategies for managing household electricity consumption during the summer months. The presentation will include tips of special interest to RRTP participants, to help them reduce electricity usage during high-price times and throughout the warm weather season.

The workshop is being offered by CNT Energy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people save money and energy. The workshop is free of charge and refreshments will be provided. Space is limited, and reservations can be made by contacting CNT Energy at 773-269-4037 or info@cntenergy.org.

Factors Affecting Electricity Prices

• Weather and temperature.  Air conditioning use can drive up the demand for electricity in summer. In winter, a significant drop in temperature or an extended cold snap may push up natural gas prices, which in turn increases the cost of operating gas-burning power plants that generate electricity.

• Planned power outages. When electric generators conduct routine maintenance and repair of their generating plants, they produce less electricity than normal.

• Unplanned outages and transmission constraints. Unexpected generation plant outages can also occur, and there can be constraints in parts of the regional transmission network that is used to bring electricity from power plants to ComEd’s distribution system.