PSEG seeks to jump-start thermostat plan that LIPA rarely used

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PSEG Long Island's $200 million proposal to reduce energy consumption over the next decade seeks to reinvigorate a thermostat-control program LIPA has already funded at about $33 million, but has rarely used.

PSEG tomorrowwill present technical details of its Utility 2.0 plan at Stony Brook University. The plan aims to reduce energy consumption by 185 megawatts, about half the output of a large power plant, according to PSEG documents. The proposal also would allow PSEG to earn a $122 million return on its $200 million investment by enacting conservation measures aimed at cutting demand and customer costs.

Nearly a third of the budget -- $60 million -- would go to installing and upgrading technology to allow the utility to remotely adjust central air-conditioning thermostats in homes and businesses of participating customers. The technology lets utilities shave demand during peak times, usually during summer heat waves, by slightly increasing thermostat settings.

Energy bought during peak times is more expensive, and higher demand during peak times is a key reason LIPA has projected the need for additional power resources through 2023.

PSEG's proposal calls for scrapping LIPA's outdated technology and increasing the base of 36,000 volunteer customers to 60,000, in part through an incentive payment of $50. It also proposes adding 8,000 small business customers, installing similar technology to remotely control pool pumps, and launching a small pilot program to remotely adjust room air conditioners. In all, the remote control measures would cut peak usage by about 100 megawatts annually.

But since 2004, LIPA has implemented its existing program, LIPA Edge, only 16 times, PSEG said. As Newsday reported in 2011, LIPA opted not to use it during that year's heat wave because, former LIPA chief Michael Hervey said, LIPA had plenty of excess power and "I don't think we're in the business of trying to ration electricity on peak periods." LIPA used the program only in system emergencies to avoid blackouts, PSEG said.

Mike Voltz, director of energy efficiency and renewables for PSEG Long Island, said PSEG's philosophy will be different.

"We feel we should use it on days when it is economic to do so," Voltz said, and PSEG sees "significant financial benefits" to enacting it during those periods. Customers would have the ability to override the system, he said.

Environmentalists generally support the thermostat program but say PSEG must commit to implementing it to have a real impact on usage.

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"For goodness' sakes use it, it's a no-brainer," said Peter Gollon, energy chair of the Sierra Club's Long Island Chapter.

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