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February 01, 2011 10:06 PM

Staying Out Of Hot Water With Hot Water

Rapid City, SD

Your energy bill probably never seems to get any cheaper, but some west river power companies are installing a new system to help you save money.

Flip a switch, the lights come on. Open the refrigerator and the food is cold. You do things every day without thinking about how the power gets to your house. And for those who live in Western South Dakota, chances are it comes from Rushmore electric Power Cooperative.

“It's our responsibility to make sure they have enough power to keep the lights on for those co-op members," General Manager Vic Simmons said.

Eight electric co-ops to be exact.

"We do that by purchasing electricity from Western Area Power Administration, that's the dams on the Missouri River," Simmons said. And the other part comes from Basin Electric, that's another co-op, that’s basically our coal and wind and gas recourses."

And a fairly small room of computers controls it all. With around 75,000 customers, Simmons said they're not just supplying energy, they're making sure you don't use too much of it at the wrong time.

"If I take your water heater and it's on during my peak, that costs about 50 bucks that we have to then turn around and put back in to your energy rate," Simmons said.

So instead, they're now using a smart grid to help you keep some of that money in your pocket.

"Its a device that goes on the water heater that then allows the utility so say, instead of running while were peaking, lets run, you know, 2, 3, 4 hours later, once that peak usage has subsided," Simmons said.

"Basically what happens is we have a microwave system, private network, that pull all of the substations, gathers the data, pulls into a system, we then determine when we're going to control," Operations Manager Kory Hammerbeck said.

A complicated set up that Hammerbeck said has taken two to three years to plan out.

"And if you were to ask the gentlemen who have been here for a number of years, this actually started back in the 80's," Hammerbeck said.

But he said, back then, they didn't have the infrastructure or money to do something like this. And even now, it's not easy.

"Takes a lot of planning, a lot of implementation, a lot of thought process. Not only from the actual physical putting parts in, from the marketing stand point, it takes a tremendous amount of time," Hammerbeck said.

And once the system is in, Simmons said it will be life as usual for customers. But there may be a few things to change, such as using the time delay offered on many newer dishwashers.

"We cook supper and load the dishwasher. Don't start it the minute you get done. You know, cause that's going to use hot water. Start it at ten o'clock before you go to bed," Simmons said.

And he said, in the end, the work now will all benefit the one paying the bills.

"Our ultimate goal is we don't have to raise your rates, as high. You know, we may have to raise them anyway because costs go up. But with this program were hoping we can control come of that cost," Simmons said.

Right now they're only controlling around 5 to 600 water heaters. They hope to have all 75,000 customers hooked up within three years.

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