Washington state regulators Wednesday approved new “time-of-day” rates and incentives to cut power use for customers of Puget Sound Energy (PSE) this summer to help ease the western power shortage.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) endorsed the plan that will encourage about 300,000 PSE residential customers to switch energy use to off-peak periods by allowing them to monitor their own usage and respond to different pricing periods during the day. The customers have been receiving detailed information in their monthly bills and through the utility’s website showing when they use electricity, and price variances during peak and non-peak hours.

All 925,000 PSE customers in all customer classes also will be eligible to earn a new credit if they cut overall power use by more than 10% over the same month in the previous year.

The new time-of-day rates will take effect May 1. PSE’s Personal Energy Management (PEM) program calls for customers to pay about 15% less than the current flat rate for off-peak usage. The “economy” hours are from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and all day Sundays and holidays. Power used during peak periods from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday will cost 15% more than the current fixed electric rate. Since PSE’s residential customers, on average, currently use nearly half of their electricity during off-peak hours, they won’t see much of a change in the electric bills unless they change their energy use habits, a PSE spokesman said.

But “if a lot of customers just do small things, like running their dishwashers after 9 o’clock at night or doing their laundry on Sundays, they’ll not only lower their personal bills, but they’ll help to limit the amount of high cost power we buy on the wholesale market,” said Gary Swofford, PSE vice president. The time-of-day trial program will run through Sept. 30. If it is deemed successful, it could be expanded to more customers.

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