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thermometer showing high temperatureThey’re here, those hot summer months that we all either love or hate. It’s time to leave your sweaters at home and embrace the warmth of Massachusetts. But, as much as we enjoy the sunshine, we all have experienced those days of excruciating heat and humidity – the ones that tempt us to shut ourselves inside and blast the air conditioners.

Electricity usage throughout New England reaches its peak during summer heat waves, causing our electricity bills to spike. Electric utilities can consult weather forecasts to predict times of high energy usage and, when they expect a time of high demand, they typically call on more expensive energy sources (“peaking” plants) to provide extra power throughout the state. These costs are passed onto larger, non-residential consumers through demand charges on their monthly electricity bill. For municipalities, these charges often apply to schools  and large town halls. The amount of those charges depends upon the highest 15-minute time period for each billing period.

The  largest electricity customers, such as large high schools and water or wastewater treatment facilities, also have minimum demand charges set by a single 15-minute time period for each year. For municipalities and other consumers of electricity, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact time the utility will use to determine their peak demand because it does not always fall at the same day or time or day each year. Susan McPhee, Energy Conservation Coordinator of Winchester, claims that knowing the peak hours of the day is an “art,” but, through trends, she has noticed energy prices spike in the afternoon. You can see the time of the peak load for the previous day posted in ISO New England’s Morning Report. According to McPhee, “it is very tough to predict” the right time for load shed.electrical wire plugged in

Although the annual peak is short, it has the power to influence the peak load charge on customers’ bills for the upcoming year. Last year, Massachusetts reached its annual peak of electricity usage on July 19, 2013 with 27,377 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Municipal buildings will be able to save a significant sum of money if they shut off portions of their electricity during the annual peak period alone. McPhee says that it is her responsibility to look at the trends and send out a notification to municipal building managers and staff throughout Winchester to watch for potential peak demand days. This gives municipal buildings time to plan to reduce their electricity usage as much as possible. And that will help Winchester save money on their electric bills throughout the year.

On July 2, when the thermometer hovered around 90 degrees, McPhee sent an email to town department staff asking them to “shed the load.” “If there is equipment that can be unplugged, please do it. If there are ACs that can be off for an hour, that would be great,” she wrote. McPhee emphasized in her message that “any effort pays back big time,” and thanked her “building champions” for their “continued support for energy saving,” noting that, by doing so, Winchester can “spend [its] money on people instead of fuel.”

Is your city or town ready to take steps to minimize summertime usage of electricity and save money year-round?

Here is an abbreviated version of Winchester’s Susan McPhee “Shares: How-To Shed the load.”

  • Set it up: Send out an email now to your “building champions” in town.
  • Sign off: Make sure this procedure is approved by your municipality’s leadership.
  • Shut down: Turn off as much electricity in your facility as possible during designated peak hours.
  • Find more information: Contact your electricity provider to see what load management and demand response services are offered.

Written By:


DOER Intern

Abby Barnicle will be a senior in the fall of 2014 at Stonehill College, where she majors in English and Communication, and takes courses in Environmental Studies. After studying abroad in Rome last fall, Abby is ready to take on Boston for the summer. She is excited to learn more about energy efficiency in Massachusetts through her Summer 2014 internship with DOER.

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