COLUMBIA — As the heat wave continues, the city of Columbia has yet to use a program this summer that cycles air conditioners on and off during peak power consumption.
"We are consuming more power than usual this month because of the high temperatures, but it's hard to predict exactly when we will need to turn on the switches," Christian Johanningmeier, city power production superintendent, said last week. "It depends on the amount of consumption, whether we have an adequate supply and what the cost of power is in the market."
Information about the Load Management Program can be found on the city's website at gocolumbiamo.com or by calling 874-7325.
The Load Management Program offered by Columbia Water and Light gives residents and businesses with central air conditioning a chance to save money on their monthly electricity bills while helping the city avoid purchasing costly power.
In exchange for allowing the city to temporarily cycle their cooling systems between the air conditioner and the fan, residents get a 3 percent discount on their electricity bills.
Johanningmeier said Monday that the program has not been used so far this year.
Tim Pohlman of Columbia Water and Light said the program is typically used only during days of high electricity demand three to five times a year.
“The key problem is that people think that we turn off AC units every day it gets hot,” Pohlman said. “But the fact is that we only do that on peak days.”
Although the program hasn't been used yet this summer, the ongoing high heat and humidity have pushed power consumption close to needing to do so. On Monday, the National Weather Service extended the area's excessive heat warning through Thursday evening.
The most power ever consumed in the city, 272 megawatts, occurred in July 2006. As of Wednesday, this July has seen a consumption of 266 megawatts, Johanningmeier said.
The city buys a predetermined amount of power each month. If the city uses all of that power, then it must buy more from the wholesale market, which can end up costing three to four times more, Pohlman said. The Load Management Program aims to help prevent the need to buy extra power by limiting the use of electricity.
During peak usage, air conditioners are fixed to a cycle to be turned off for 7 1/2 minutes every half-hour, and the fan runs for that time instead. The cycle is only used until peak demand is over.
“The program is a lot like a fire extinguisher. When there is a fire, you use it," Pohlman said. "During days with peak electricity, the load management takes into effect. Otherwise, it doesn’t do anything but sit there.”
The program has been available since 1984. About 19,500 residents currently use the program, Pohlman said.
As to whether the city is losing money on this offer, given how few times it's been used and how many residents and businesses are signed up, Pohlman likens the situation to an insurance policy: The city may lose a little money now, but it's trying to avoid losing a lot of money later, he said.
As soon as a customer signs up for the program, the discount goes into effect, although it might take 30 to 90 days to get the transmitter installed on an air conditioning unit.