Stowe Electric drops rates, launches usage study and plans new rate structure

Stowe electricEditor’s note: This article is by Tommy Gardner of the  Stowe Reporter, in which it was originally published on April 3, 2014.

Stowe Electric announced on April 1 that it would drop rates for 4,000 customers.

The 3.8 percent across-the-board reduction is the result of a 2013 Department of Public Service investigation into the utility’s rate structure.

As an added bonus, all customers will receive a one-time rebate in May. The utility will pay out $270,000 for the one-time credits, according to Stowe Electric general manager Ellen Burt.

The utility is also launching a load profile study as it overhauls its rate structure, making room for modified tariff categories such as geothermal energy users and seasonal part-time residents.

“We’re really looking at who is using the energy and who is paying for it,” Burt said Tuesday.

A load profile is a study of customers’ electricity usage over time, and allows utilities to plan on when to make more or less electricity available. The price tag for the profile is roughly $100,000, and will come out of the utility’s existing revenue.

Stowe Electric’s controller, Kevin Weishaar, said smart meters make the load profile much more accurate. In the late 1980s or early ’90s, a load profile used monthly meter readings, but today’s smart meters show usage in 15-minute increments. That’s 35,000 readings per customer, per year, for meters that run 24 hours a day.

Burt said the load profile project was put on the agenda more than four years ago, when Stowe Electric began installing smart meters, but they had to wait until all the meters were up and running.

“We’d just be doing it the old way if we’d done it four years ago,” Burt said.

Burt said she anticipates that new rate structures will be in place by the end of the year. In addition to reconfiguring existing residential, commercial and industrial rates, the utility will likely change its “time of use” rates, thanks to the more accurate smart meter data.

That includes possibly raising the “residential demand” rate, a category of user defined largely by part-time residents who have large homes and use a lot of electricity when they’re in town. Such users have an uneven and inconsistent effect on the electrical grid, and are charged a higher rate after a certain number of kilowatt-hours used in a single month.

The rate restructuring will also allow the utility to increase its renewable energy portfolio by adding a geothermal rate. Renewables currently make up 54 percent of the overall power picture, according to Burt. Stowe Electric is the first Vermont utility to have a separate tariff for utility-owned electric car charging stations.

Stowe Electric currently gets 29 percent of its power from Hydro Quebec, 12 percent from other hydropower sources, and another 12 percent from its contract with the McNeil wood-chip plant in Burlington.

Geothermal energy production is a growing practice, and Burt said Stowe is poised to be the rare utility that charges a special rate for customers tapping into the earth’s energy. Stowe Electric will be a customer too; the utility plans to break ground on new headquarters this year and will be using geothermal for its offices.

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