ComEd Releases Online and Mobile Tools for Better Outage Information

Thursday May 31, 2012
Posted at 09:04

comed_storm_tools.jpgIllinois electricity utility Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) has released an online map and a smartphone app to help better communicate with customers about power outages during storms and provide information about how the utility is responding.

ComEd announced May 7 that it had a new color-coded map on its website that would allow customers to easily find clear information about power outages. The map, which is auto-updated every 30 minutes, provides details such as crew status and estimated power restoration time.

Presumably, customers who are experiencing a power outage and can’t access the map on their computers could still access the map with a battery-powered mobile device with a cellular data plan, such as an iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone or tablet.

The utility also announced a free mobile app for iPhone and Android smartphones that will help customers easily report power outages and check restoration status. The app can be downloaded from ComEd’s website or the Apple and Android app stores.

Sources

ComEd Adds Map, Mobile App to Storm Response Tools,” Bloomberg Businessweek, May 8, 2012.

How Connecticut Homeowners Can Qualify for Low-Interest Energy-Efficiency Loans

Tuesday May 29, 2012
Posted at 08:55

Residents of Connecticut, if you’re thinking about investing in home improvements to cut your energy use and save money off electricity bills, you may be able to get attractive financing for your improvements through the Connecticut Housing Investment Fund, or CHIF. CHIF’s Residential Energy Efficiency Financing Program offers low-interest loans for a wide variety of energy efficiency improvements, from insulation to ENERGY STAR–certified heating and cooling systems. Here’s how it works:

Basic CHIF Eligibility Requirements

To take part in CHIF’s Residential Energy Efficiency Financing Program, your residential electricity must be delivered bythe Connecticut Light & Power Company (CL&P) or the United Illuminating Company (UI).

Before you can apply for a low-interest CHIF loan, you’ll need to schedule a professional Home Energy Solutions (HES) Energy Assessment from an approved HES contractor to test your home’s efficiency and recommend energy-efficient improvements. An HES Energy Assessment can be scheduled by calling 877.947.3873.

After you have your assessment, you’ll need to getan estimate from an approved CHIF contractor and apply for your CHIF loan online at www.CHIF.org or by phone at 800.992.3665.

Amount of Loans

All energy efficiency loans that homeowners apply for under CHIF’s Residential Energy Efficiency Financing Program must be between $2,500 and $20,000.

Program Categories, Interest Rates and Terms

Program Categories and Interest Rates

CHIF’s Residential Energy Efficiency Financing Program offers two main categories of programs, which qualify for one of two interest rates, either 2.99 percent or 4.99 percent. When you bundle qualifying improvements or equipment upgrades from both categories, the entire package qualifies for the lower 2.99 percent interest rate.

A third category specifically for residential electricity customers of CL&P offers market-rate loans to help cover the cost of installing geothermal heat pump systems.

Loan Terms

CHIF offers unsecured, fixed-rate loans with repayment terms up to 10 years. There are no fees or prepayment penalties. The homeowner assumes the loan and CHIF pays the contractor directly. Repayment begins 30 days after the work is complete. UI customers make monthly payments directly via their utility bills. CL&P customers can choose to make monthly payments to CHIF or directly via their utility bills.

Improvements that qualify for 2.99 percent financing include insulation, ductless heat pumps, heat pump water heaters and tankless natural gas water heaters:

 -High efficiency insulation must meet current HES rebate requirements

 -Ductless heat pumps must meet the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund’s ductless heat pump criteria for the $1,000 incentive level; ductless heat pumps must be installed in a zone that has electric resistance heat as the primary source of heat

 -Electric heat pump water heaters must have an Energy Factor (EF) of 2.0 or greater

 -Tankless natural gas hot water heaters must have an EF of 0.082 or greater

Improvements that qualify for 4.99 percent financing include central air and heat pump systems, air to air heat pumps, natural gas furnaces and boilers, and replacement windows:

 -Central air and heat pump systems must meet equipment early retirement criteria and utilize heating and cooling system rebates and the QIV rebate program; they must also have minimum ratings of 14.5 SEER, 12 EER, 8.2 HSPF

 -Air to air heat pumps must be used to replace electric resistance heat; they must have minimum ratings of 14.5 SEER, 12 EER, 8.2 HSPF

 -Natural gas furnaces must be CEE TierII–certified with a 92 percent AFUE rating and have an air handler performance level of 2 percent or lower

 -Natural gas boilers must have a 90 percent AFUE rating and feature temperature reset or purge control

 -Replacement windows must meet HES program eligibility and replacement criteria and must be used to replace single-paned windows

 -Geothermal heat pump systems may be eligible for financing under the CHIF Residential Energy Efficiency Financing Program at standard market interest rates. To qualify, homeowners must be residential electricity delivery customers of CL&P and homes must meet current geothermal program guidelines.

ENERGY STAR–Certification Requirement

All new or upgraded equipment, including replacement windows, must be ENERGY STAR–certified to qualify for a low-interest loan under CHIF’s Residential Energy Efficiency Financing Program.

For More Information

For more information about the CHIF Residential Energy Efficiency Financing Program and qualifying improvements, download the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund’s Residential Energy Efficiency Financing brochure or call the Connecticut Housing Investment Fund at 800.992.3665.

Sources

Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund brochure, “Residential Financing.”

Connecticut Housing Investment Fund, “Residential Energy Efficiency Financing Program.”

DSIRE, “Connecticut: Energy Efficiency Fund (Electric and Gas) — Residential Energy Efficiency Financing.”


Sales Tax Holiday for Energy-Efficient Appliances Comes to Texas May 26–28, 2012

Tax Free Shopping 2012This Memorial Day weekend, Texans can save on sales tax on ENERGY STAR appliances using the state’s fifth annual sales tax holiday.

The state-wide promotion runs from May 28–30 and will help residents cut energy costs by allowing them to purchase one of the following ENERGY STAR–certified appliance upgrades without having to pay a single cent in sales tax:

--Air conditioners, up to $6,000

--Ceiling fans

--Clothes washers, but not clothes dryers (ENERGY STAR doesn’t label clothes dryers because most use about the same amount of energy)

--Dehumidifiers

--Dishwashers

--Light bulbs, incandescent and fluorescent

--Programmable thermostats manufactured up to December 31, 2009 (ENERGY STAR no longer rates programmable thermostats, but any ENERGY STAR–rated programmable thermostats manufactured before January 1, 2010 that are still in stock are eligible) --Refrigerators, up to $2,000

What if I Want to Buy Online or Through a Catalog?

You can shop online or through a catalog and still qualify for the sales tax exemption as long as the ENERGY STAR–certified appliance is paid for and the retailer accepts the order between May 26–28. In such cases, the appliance may be shipped after May 28.

What About Out-of-Stock, Backordered and On-Order Appliances?

If the ENERGY STAR–certified appliance is backlogged, temporarily out of stock or on order by the retailer, you’ll still qualify for the sales tax exemption as long as you purchase the appliance between May 26–28.

How Does the Sales Tax Holiday Work With Layaway Plans?

You’ll be able to qualify for the sales tax exemption as long as you complete your order and the ENERGY STAR–certified appliance is accepted into layaway between May 26–28. You can also qualify for the sales tax exemption on an ENERGY STAR–certified appliance already in layaway if you make your final payment between May 26–28.

Are Delivery Charges Tax Exempt?

Some delivery charges will qualify for the sales tax exemption. Several factors determine the tax-exempt status of your order — including if you have a mix of eligible ENERGY STAR–certified appliances and non-eligible items and whether you are charged a flat delivery fee or not — so make sure to ask your retailer for more information on delivery charges before you place your order.

Are the Installation Charges for My New Appliance Also Tax Exempt?

Whether or not the installation of ENERGY STAR–certified appliances qualifies for the sales tax exemption is somewhat complicated and depends on several factors like the type of installation and the nature of the jobsite. For more information on the tax-exempt status of installations, contact the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, your installer or contractor.

Sources

Window on State Government, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, “ENERGY STAR Sales Tax Holiday Information for Sellers Memorial Day Weekend: May 26-28, 2012.”

ComEd Warns Customers that Party Balloons Are Causing Power Outages

Thursday May 24, 2012
Posted at 09:20

How Balloons Can Cause Power OutagesYou know those helium-filled Mylar party balloons that you get at the grocery store for birthday parties? They might light up your kids’ faces, but they could also end up turning out the lights.

According to Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd), Illinois’ largest public utility, Mylar balloons that are released from outdoor birthday parties, graduations and weddings have a tendency to wander gently into the sky — and right into power lines.

In a news release warning customers of the dangers of Mylar balloons released outside, ComEd said that so far this year, the festive floaters have caused power outages affecting roughly 11,000 customers, which is significantly higher than the 6,700 customers that were affected by balloon-related outages during the same period last year.

The utility said the number will rise even more this summer, as the temperature increases and more parties are held outside, unless families take precautions and secure balloons that are used outdoors.

ComEd said that when the metallic skin of a Mylar balloon contacts a power line or a part of substation equipment, it can create an electric surge that may lead to a short-circuit, power outage or even a fire.

To help cut down on power outages from Mylar balloons, ComEd recommends that you take a few precautions:

1. Make sure balloons are tethered or secured and attached to weights or sturdy structures at all times

2. When you’re done with balloons, puncture them to let the helium escape and dispose of them properly

3. You should always assume that power lines are live; make sure that you, your belongings and anything you are carrying are least 10 feet away from power lines at all times

Under no circumstances should you try to recover a balloon or other toy that’s become entangled in an overhead power line; instead request assistance by calling ComEd at 800.334.7661

Sources

ComEd Warns: Balloons Can Cause Power Outages,” Buffalo Grove Patch, May 5, 2012.

40 Percent of CL&P Customers Have Switched to a Retail Electricity Supplier

CLP Customers are Switching Electricity ProvidersMore and more electricity customers in Connecticut are discovering the benefits of switching to a retail electricity supplier.

Over 40 percent of residential customers that have their electricity delivered by Connecticut Lighting & Power (CL&P) now buy their electricity from a retail electricity supplier, according to the most recent data released by the utility. That’s 446,000 Connecticut homes that have already switched.

“Increasingly, electricity customers are switching their electricity supply from their utilities to retail suppliers as more people begin to understand the advantages of switching, which can include the ability to lock in lower electricity prices for extended periods,” said Jim Head, Vice President of Marketing and Sales at Spark Energy. “More people are also aware of how electricity deregulation works in Connecticut— even though the utility will still deliver electricity to their homes, people can shop around and buy electricity from any retail electricity supplier they choose that services their area.”

Head said that now may be a good time for electricity customers to lock in electricity prices. “It’s always smart to shop around for a good deal, and smart shoppers across Connecticut are choosing Spark Energy,” said Head. “With summer prices coming soon, families everywhere could benefit from locking in a low fixed electricity price with a retail electricity supplier like Spark Energy.”

Sources

Connecticut Light & Power, “Summary Data: Electric Supplier MWh Load and Customer Count,” March 19, 2012.

ComEd Upgrades, Grid Modernization Projects Begin in Illinois

Monday May 21, 2012
Posted at 11:38
Tags: comed

Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) announced in March that it was beginning its massive 10-year, $2.6 billion grid modernization project, which will affect the electricity utility’s entire service area.

In a news release, ComEd said it plans the following improvements to be completed by the end of the first quarter:

1. Replace or reinforce utility poles at approximately 250 locations, to help maintain the grid and improve reliability in storm conditions.

2. Replace or inject more than 506,000 feet of underground residential distribution (URD) cable — the electrical cable they bury under the ground in neighborhoods to take electricity to homes — in order to reduce the number of cable failures.

3. Other enhancements designed to improve performance and reduce service interruptions include lighting enhancements, installing nearly 600 distribution automation devices, replacing more than 32,000 feet of mainline cable, assessing manholes at 660 locations and testing 12 sections of cable.

Additional work planned throughout 2012 includes replacing or reinforcing utility poles at 1,400 locations, replacing or injecting more than 1.6 million feet of URD cable, performing additional lighting enhancements, installing more than 430 distribution automation devices, trimming trees in approximately 2,300 locations, replacing more than 15,000 feet of mainline cable, conducting testing on nearly 100 sections of cable and assessing manholes at more than 3,200 locations.

Planned Upgrades in the Suburbs

About 65 suburbs in ComEd’s service area will be targeted for upgrades. Here’s a sampling of the affected areas, according to the Daily Herald:

Arlington Heights

First quarter of 2012: Replace more than 8,900 feet of URD cable. Installing six distribution automation devices, replacing 20 feet of mainline cable and testing.

Remainder of 2012: Replace more than 18,900 feet of URD cable. Tree trimmings in four locations.

Des Plaines

First quarter of 2012: Replace over 270 feet of URD cable. Installing four distribution automation devices and testing.

Remainder of 2012: Replace about 560 feet of URD cable. Replace and reinforce utility poles in one location. Tree trimming in eight locations.

Elgin

First quarter of 2012: Replace more than 680 feet of URD cable. Replace more than 2,700 feet of mainline cable.

Later in 2012: Replace about 30,400 feet of URD cable. Tree trimming in more than 20 locations.

Gurnee

First quarter of 2012: Replace more than 150 feet of URD cable. Installing eight distribution automation devices.

Remainder of 2012: Replace more than 17,890 feet of URD cable. Tree trimming in more than 15 locations.

Hoffman Estates

First quarter of 2012: Replace more than 19,320 feet of URD cable. Replacing more than 1,500 feet of mainline cable.

Remainder of 2012: Replace more than 18,000 feet of URD cable. Tree trimming.

Lombard

First quarter of 2012: Install lighting enhancement and one distribution automation device.

Remainder of 2012: Replace nearly 27,900 feet of URD cable. Tree trimming in 14 locations and installing three distribution automation devices.

Palatine

First quarter of 2012: Replace more than 45,300 feet of URD cable. VLF testing in one section.

Remainder of 2012: Replace more than 49,600 feet of URD cable.

Schaumburg

First quarter of 2012: Replace more than 46,900 feet of URD cable.

Remainder of 2012: Replace more than 38,400 feet of URD cable. Installing four distribution automation devices and tree trimming in eight locations.

Wheaton

First quarter of 2012: Replace nearly 11,400 feet of URD cable.

Remainder of 2012: Replace more than 14,050 feet of URD cable. Installing four distribution automation devices and tree trimming in 14 locations.

Wheeling

First quarter of 2012: Replace more than 3,250 feet of URD cable. Lighting enhancement and installing two distribution automation devices.

Remainder of 2012: Replace more than 50,600 feet of URD cable.

Over the course of ComEd’s 10-year grid modernization project, which was approved in October, the utility will spend $1.3 billion on infrastructure and equipment maintenance and upgrades and another $1.3 billion on installing smart meters while digitizing and upgrading the electric grid.

Sources

ComEd Outlines Upgrade Plans for Suburbs,” Daily Herald, March 8, 2012.

Significant Electric Grid Modernization Work Coming to ComEd Service Area,” ComEd press release, March 8, 2012.


ComEd Offers Tips to Help Customers Avoid ComEd Impersonators

ComEd Scam WarningIllinois electricity utility Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) is offering a few tips about how to avoid a rare, but important problem reported by a few of its customers– people impersonating ComEd employees for personal gain.

There have been less than 30 reported incidents in which individuals have shown up at customers' homes or businesses claiming to be from ComEd but, in reality, are unaffiliated with the utility. The small number of impersonators have reportedly tried to assert their fake ComEd identities to get access to customers’ personal information, but ComEd says there are a few things to watch for, and a few things customers can double-check, that make it easy to avoid problems with ComEd impersonators:

  • Customers should always ask to see a company photo ID before allowing any ComEd utility worker into their home or business
  • ComEd employees never ask for cash payments or personal banking information, such as credit card numbers, so you should never pay on-site for services
  • ComEd employees don’t engage in telemarketing activities or door-to-door sales activities
  • If anyone comes to your home or business wearing clothing with old or defaced company logos, make sure to double-check their authenticity by asking to see a company photo ID — and if you have any doubt, don’t let the individuals into your home
  • Customers can verify if a ComEd worker is in the neighborhood by calling toll-free 800-EDISON-1 (800-334-7661)

ComEd said that customers who believe they’ve had a run-in with an impersonator should call the police and report the incident.

Sources

ComEd Warns Customers of Impersonation Scams,” Morton Grove Champion, March 26, 2012.

Nest’s Smart Thermostat Gets Cooler 2.0 Update

In terms of gadgets that can reduce your energy use and help you save money on monthly utility bills, the Nest Learning Thermostat is one of the coolest. And it just got cooler.

Nest Labs announced the release of what is essentially version 2.0 of its wireless smart thermostat’s software, which can be accessed by an Internet-connected Web browser or by apps on mobile devices using Apple’s iOS operating system or Google’s Android operating system.

The Nest thermostat uses a person’s temperature settings to “learn” about heating and cooling habits and preferences so it can “auto-program” itself. The software upgrade enables the thermostat to present history data over 10 days, generate monthly reports, communicate when heating and cooling systems are turned on and show if setting changes were cause by the weather, a manual adjustment or an auto-away setting.

According to Nest Labs, the software upgrade will help thermostat users better understand how changes to temperature settings affect energy use. One cool feature of the upgrade, called Airwave, keeps an air conditioner fan running, instead of both the fan and the compressor, to keep cool air circulating and reduce energy use. According to Nest Labs, the feature can reduce electricity use by 30 percent for people in dry climates.

An EPA study found that while programmable thermostats can result in energy savings of 20 percent to 30 percent, the study found that only about 10 percent of people who have programmable thermostats program them. In a Nest Labs survey, however, the company found that almost all users of its learning thermostat use its automatic setback feature. The company says that’s because the thermostat only has to be used manually for a few days before beginning to program its own setback based on user preferences.

Do you use a programmable thermostat? If so, do you program it? If not, why?

Sources

Nest's Smart Thermostat Chills Out With New A/C Feature,” CNET, April 5, 2012.

UCLA Scientist Develops Record-Setting Flexible Solar Cells

Monday May 7, 2012
Posted at 08:10

Thanks to one UCLA scientist, the future of solar power may be more flexible than you had imagined.

Yang Yang, a researcher with the university’s School of Engineering, announced on Feb. 13 that he had set a new power-conversion world record for his signature brand of cheap, flexible organic polymer solar cells. After integrating a new infrared-absorbing material into the polymer, Yang was able to record a power-conversion efficiency of 10.6 percent. The new world record, which was certified by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, eclipsed Yang’s previous organic polymer power-conversion efficiency world record of 8.62 percent set in July 2011.

Yang says that in five years, he fully expects to increase his solar cells’ efficiency to 15 or 20 percent, which would result in solar cells strong enough to power cars and cell phones. And since the organic polymer solar cells can be manufactured in thin, bendable sheets, the possibilities for use are almost endless. Not only could they be cut and pasted on an electric car’s roof or the back of a cell phone, but they could be hung in front of windows like roll-down shades or stuck on house rooftops.

Personally, we’re already looking forward to the rolled-up solar cell sheet that we can stick in the trunk of our car for instant battery power wherever we go. A few universal adapters that connect the sheet to the battery compartments or recharging ports in consumer electronics and the possibilities really will be endless.

Sources

UCLA Scientists Invent Cheap, Bendy Solar Panels That Could Charge Your Car, Phone,” LA Weekly, Feb. 13, 2012.

UCLA Engineers Create Tandem Polymer Solar Cells That Set Record For Energy-Conversion,” UCLA press release, Feb. 13, 2012.

CL&P Begins Tree Trimming Campaign to Help Prevent Outages in Greenwich

Friday May 4, 2012
Posted at 07:00

CL&P Tree Trimming Campaign

Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) has kicked off a campaign to trim trees in Greenwich, Conn. to help prevent power outages in the city from storm-related damage.

The electricity utility’s $600,000 tree trimming project began in March and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The focus of the effort will be on trimming trees back to help prevent damage to power lines and other electrical equipment from falling tree limbs – the number one cause of power outages. The project will involve about a quarter of CL&P’s power lines in Greenwich. Trimming will take place primarily south of Route 1; in the Lake Avenue area between Round Hill Road and the Merritt Parkway; and in the Valley Road, Cat Rock Road and Cognewaugh Road neighborhoods.

Additional, or “enhanced,” tree trimming will also be conducted in areas that have experienced tree-related power outages in the past. The actual trimming will be performed by crews from Lewis Tree Service Inc.

For a list of affected streets, CL&P electricity customers can visit www.clpbringspower.com and click on the “Vegetation Management” link.

For more information or to ask questions, customers can call CL&P’s Doug Pistawka at 860.665.6146 or Lewis Tree Service’s Brian Fuegen at 860.818.3818.

Sources

CL&P Trims Trees in Greenwich to Avert Outages,” The Daily Greenwich, March 27, 2012.