Turning down the house: Corn Belt Energy program interrupts power for willing members

You’ve probably noticed that we’re all about saving members money on electricity, from all we do to deliver that electricity efficiently to our programs here at PowerMoves.com. On top of that, our member co-ops have their own initiatives going, and we want to bring one unique program to your attention.

Member co-op Corn Belt Energy’s Rate 11–Entire Home program has been in place for nearly three decades. This whole-house interruption program gives lower rates to members who agree to have their power shut off entirely for up to three hours when energy usage is at its highest during the summer.

Like all of our member co-ops’ PowerShift initiatives, the whole-house interruption is restricted to weekdays and an afternoon time window. Unlike most PowerShift programs, which apply to specific appliances (like air conditioners, water heaters, and pool pumps), Rate 11 really is a complete shut-off of a home’s electricity. And it has a loyal following—so much so that there’s a waiting list.

“Our Rate 11 group is a very dedicated group of members who know all about our programs and are most likely to take advantage of our offers,” said Corn Belt Energy Energy Advisor Justin Stuva.

Although Corn Belt Energy is working toward modernizing the control switches it uses, which will enable more members to sign up for the program, current switches operate by radio signal. Some summers require more interruptions, but 2013 saw just three.

At a savings rate of 7 to 8 megawatts per interruption, that’s nearly twice as much as the co-op can gain through an air conditioner and water heater interruption. That savings is quite a contribution to the overall load and therefore to efforts to keep prices down throughout the service area.

“At this point, we have a good sense of how much load we might need to shed,” Stuva said. “If we can just switch off the air conditioners and water heaters, we do that. A whole-house interruption is always a last resort.”

Currently, 2,500 members participate in the program, and they save about 15% on their electricity for doing so. Feedback has been positive, and Stuva says that the most common reason that homeowners opt out is that they’ve bought a house that includes a switch without knowing it.

“And then they are surprised to hear from us that we’ve entered the interruption season and might be turning off their electricity,” Stuva said. “I can see how that might be an unwanted surprise.”