Electricity + April 1st = April Fuels

From Scott Carlberg

People who work in the electric industry get some unusual questions. Befitting April 1, we gathered some questions from utility communicators from across the country. If nothing else, maybe we will bust some urban legends.

A number of questions are about new technology. Given the far-reaching functions of electric technology, maybe the confusion is easy to understand. Here is a favorite April Fuels question:

Electric meter

Q: If a smart meter is installed at my home, can the electric company see inside me my house?

Feet, robe

A: The answer is no. A meter is the point where power goes from being the electric company’s power to your power. It is the point of purchase, like the checker at a food store. A smart meter does more than simply measure electricity used at a location, though. It gives the company and customer more data (better control), can reduce outage duration, make meter reading easier for companies, and by improving energy conservation they help the environment. See inside the house? No. (By the way, that robe you have is looking a little tattered.)

Q: When there is an outage do electric company executives get their power turned on first?

From Duke Energy website

A: No. Power is restored through analysis of critical locations like hospitals and police, and what areas can get most people on again in the safest and quickest way. Actually there is a well-known instance following Hurricane Hugo when Bill Lee was CEO of Duke Power. His power was out like so many others. So was his neighborhood. He vowed that his house ought to be one of the last restored. Not sure how pleased his neighbors were with that.

… Newberry Electric Coop website

Here is the way Duke Energy describes the way it restores electricity after an outage. That information is available in a document you can save here. Newberry (SC) Cooperative says it this way.  Here is how Dominion Energy suggests to prepare for an outage.

There have been a lot of questions asked about nuclear energy.

Not rock fish. Not cooked.

Q: I fish on the bay near the nuclear plant. Are the rock fish already cooked? (Not a Carolina question, BTW)

A: Tempted to say it depends on how you like your fish, but NO. The water that comes from the cooling of a nuclear facility is for cooling the system. The water is often warmer than the overall temperature the bigger body of water but adjusts after it leaves the plant. There have been stories in Florida about the way manatees like the warm water near power plants. There are even visitor centers to watch them.

Q: If my electricity is made with nuclear energy, is it radioactive?

A: No. Be assured power made at a nuclear plant is electricity like all other electricity. But don’t try testing it out by touch. For the grid or your home electricity to work properly all power has a strict quality control of voltage, frequency and other variables. The big difference in nuclear plant power is the sheer volume of electricity that can be made compared to other generation sources.

Questions about outages and power costs are also popular.

From SCE&G Flickr gallery

Q: When will you have outages from the storm that is heading our way? How many outages will there be? And how long will it take to get my power back on?

A: Recognizing the public service basis of power companies – investor-owned, public power, coops, municipals – they all work hard to make outages not happen. That is impossible, though, since no one knows what trees may fall, what equipment takes a lightning hit or what lines could get iced-up too much and snap. With new technologies, though, locating outage problems and getting them repaired is better than ever. No electric company wants the power off for any extended period. Every electric company will work in the safest possible way to restore power as fast as possible.

Q: Will I get a discount when the power is out?

A: ECC heard this a few times. Most of any bill represents the amount of power that is used. In a power outage, so…

With facility charges, or access fees as they are sometimes called, being more widespread, they stay constant. Those costs are used to keep the system operating and upgraded. Taxes play a significant part of any electric bill. One way to lower electric bills is not to tax electricity. (Stopping a tax, that is an April Fool’s thought.)

Then, we heard from one utility communicator who said, “Following a power plant tour and hearing about the cost of everything, one of the guests said, ‘I’m sure glad I don’t have to pay for that.'” Of course, they help pay for all of the infrastructure by being a customer of the utility.

These are all real questions and comments. You recognize how unusual these may be.

Electric vehicle charging station

What questions are pragmatic for customers to ask an electric company these days? Here are some ideas.

  • How is your company handling smart meter technology, and what does that mean for me as a customer?
  • What is your company doing to reduce carbon in the way it makes electricity? (Note: Not every company that delivers power also makes electricity. Some buy power, then distribute electricity. Ask your company about all its roles in the electric industry. If your provider does not make the electricity, try this question – ask how the company’s supplier is reducing carbon.)
  • What is your company doing to reduce its overall energy and waste footprint in daily operations?
  • What is your company doing to encourage the use of electric vehicles? (And for follow-up: Does your company have projections of the way that electric vehicles will change our electric system?)
  • Explain the different parts of an electric bill to me.

ECC will cover some of these topics in future blogs. Oh, and, if you get to meet your electric company rep in person on April 1, ask, “So, if you are part of the electric industry, do you like broccoli?” This makes no sense, but that rep will remember the question and we can include it on the ECC website next April Fuel’s Day.