He says electric utilities are also educating and encouraging customers to better use their appliances and electronic devices—often by sending consultants out to homes to show homeowners where they can make changes. Another popular program, says Rudd, which Utility Partners of America is involved in, has been to replace outdated thermostats and to install direct load control switches on air-conditioning units, hot water heaters and pool pumps. These switches allow the electric company to turn them off briefly during peak demand periods, the idea being that if you're in an air-conditioned house, and it turns off briefly but the fan is still running, you probably won't notice, provided it goes back on soon after.
But some utility programs are a little more unique. In May, the aforementioned Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative (MVEC) will begin offering customers who use its energy-saving devices points that can be redeemed for prizes—everything from discounts at national online retailers to a free month supply of Popchips.
Allan Telio, vice president of business development at MyEnergy, a free website that helps households reduce energy consumption and save on utility bills and is partnering on the giveaways with the MVEC, says it plans to have larger competitions, where, say, homeowners and family members (up to 25 people) can split $5,000 among them if they bring down their electric bills by a certain percentage.
"It's an exciting time in the industry," says Telio. As for homeowners, they can look forward to possibly much lower utility bills and a free month of potato chips. Life could be worse.
Corrected on 04/03/13: A previous version of this story misstated when the Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative (MVEC) began offering customers who use its energy-saving devices points that can be redeemed for prizes. It starts in May.