Flathead Electric Promoting Robots That Turn Off Members' Water Heaters

Jun 7, 2018

The Flathead Electric Co-op is trying to recruit more members to enroll in one of their energy-saving rebate programs that helps the co-op save money. 

Flathead Electric’s goal is to get 5,000 participants in their Peak Time Rebate program, they’re halfway there now. One member who signs up by the end of June will have their electric bill paid next month.

The Peak Time Rebate decreases the amount of energy water heaters use.

Wendy Ostrom Price is a co-op spokesperson.

“The cheapest power is the power we don’t use," Price says. "So efficiency is kind of what we’re all about.” 

Flathead Electric installs a device called a Demand Response Unit, or DRU, on water heaters. It automatically shuts off water heaters during peak electricity use times, which often goes unnoticed.

Companies have to buy more expensive backup power during peak use times, DRUs can help avoid that need.

DRUs on water heaters save Flathead Electric about $20,000 a month, with half going to DRU purchases and installations, and half to rebates for members. But that’s only a $4 a month credit on an individual member’s bill.

“Frankly, some people, they say, ‘I’m not gonna bother for that,’" Price says. "But for a lot of people, they think, not only are they getting $4, but they’re helping their co-op. They’re doing something good.”

Flathead Electric says incentive programs like the Peak Time Rebate, or rebates for efficient HVAC systems and other appliances help capture the cost of doing business. If they can lower costs, they can keep rates down.

Butte, South Dakota’s electric co-op also saves around $20,000 each month using DRU’s and other systems on water heaters.

With Flathead Electric’s offer to pay a member’s electric bill next month, the co-op brought in 12 new Peak Time Rebate participants in one day - a spike, compared to the usual sign-up rate, Price says, which will help the co-op increase efficiency and keep rates down.