Wind helps usher in free night-time electricity for utility customers
Thanks in part to West Texas’ proliferating wind farms, some residents are enjoying free electricity. As the wind industry has blossomed over the last few years, electrical utilities have been ramping up marketing efforts for energy-use plans that allow customers to use electricity free of charge overnight, on weekends, or in mornings and evenings.
It’s an ongoing experiment that attempts to change consumer behavior from using electricity during peak hours, which is generally between 3 and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. The ultimate goal is to adapt to the many wind projects that enter the fold while providing customers with rate options.
“Any plan that creates an incentive for a customer to shift a load off peak (hours) is helpful to grid operations. It’s a better use of the system,” said Paul Wattles, the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas’ senior market design analyst.
Wind facilities in West Texas generate the bulk of their productivity at night, injecting intermittent surges of electricity into the ERCOT grid.
“There’s more wind (turbines) being built all the time, so we’re looking to the future, and we want to make sure we have the right tool set for dealing with a lot of intermittent renewables on the grid,” Wattles said. “But our system is designed to serve the load under all conditions.”
Through rate plans like TXU Energy’s Free Nights, Free Mornings and Evenings, or Free Weekends, customers can sign up for slightly higher electricity rates during peak hours, while enjoying free energy within specific time windows. Under a Free Nights plan, customers pay 11.9 cents per kilowatt hour during the day while paying nothing between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. — compared to 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour under conventional rate plans.
Customers can then set timers for air conditioning, dishwashers, and laundry appliances between set hours.
“The idea is to give customers another choice — something that fits their lifestyles and preferences — and shifts away from peak hours when there’s so much demand on the grid,” TXU Energy spokesman Juan Elizondo said. “So it delivers a benefit to the customer, the grid, and of course the business.”
The nature of night-time wind currents in West Texas doesn’t fit into those peak hours and could be further utilized by such Free Nights rate plans.
“All the wind helps, but the wind blows when the wind blows,” Elizondo said.
These plans aren’t wholly dependent on wind generation, “so you also have to have that baseline of generation from other sources that are more controllable,” such as natural gas and coal, he said.