Company: Payson to grade households on electric use

Caleb Warnock
Staff writer
Some Utah County residents may soon be graded on how they use electricity.

Payson, Lehi and Eagle Mountain are either considering or about to begin providing letter grades to households with their electric bills as a way of encouraging residents to cut electric use, saving taxpayers in those cities hundreds of thousands of dollars that cities would otherwise be forced to spend on utility upgrades.

Enerlyte is a private company now putting together a pilot program with a handful of cities around the state; the company would provide a letter grade for every household ranging from an A to a B-minus. To provide that information, cities would pay the company 15 cents per household per month.

Company officials told the Daily Herald that Payson will begin sending out grades in about three weeks; Payson officials did not return a request for comment. Lehi and Eagle Mountain are expected to make a final decision about joining the program in upcoming weeks, and several statewide utility companies are considering pilot testing the grading system.

Eagle Mountain officials said the city's sustainability committee requested the city to consider joining the pilot program. Elected officials, who recently heard a presentation from Enerlyte officials, are expected to vote on joining the program in upcoming weeks.

"We make energy use more affective and easier to understand for people," said Sam Steele of Enerlyte. The company's name is an amalgam of "energy analytics."

While home appliances have gotten 30 percent more efficient over the past 30 years, overall household electric use has skyrocketed as electricity-dependent gadgets such as cell phones, laptops, music players and digital cameras have become common place. So much so that the average household now used 30 percent more electricity compared to 1990, said Steele.

To meet that growing demand, cities are being forced to spend more and more taxpayer funds to purchase contracts with electricity suppliers and put in the necessary infrastructure.

Eagle Mountain has also suffered another unintended consequence - residents protested in recent years when the city condemned land in front of their homes to install a huge high-voltage electric line necessary to supply future growth in the city.

Cities have struggled to convince homeowners to use less electricity, even as infrastructure costs skyrocket.

"If existing residents use more electricity, and then you add new residents, then it costs a lot," Steele told Eagle Mountain elected officials. By curbing that thirsty trend, "you can keep some of that money in the bank instead of investing it in power."

Enerlyte will not only provide residents with letter grades, but short explanations of how much more on average high-usage families are paying compared to residents in the same area who are doing better at conserving.

For some residents, simply knowing they are spending $400 more a year on electricity than their efficient neighbors is just the wake-up call they will need to begin conserving, said Steele.

"Changing people's behaviors is one of the most difficult things about conserving energy," said Seth Phillips of Enerlyte, who compared an electric letter grade to knowing the miles-per-gallon when buying a car. "When your energy bill goes up and up and up, at a certain point people say, 'I need to be more educated about my power use.' "

"This is to give them incentive, by telling them how much they would save," said Steele. "These are real world numbers and no one is trying to sell anything."

"The whole goal is to save energy costs and [from] investment into new electric capacity for the city," said Councilman Ryan Ireland. "The goal is to save money."

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