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February 27. 2014 10:00PM

Extra data in some PSNH bills

Did you ever wonder if you're using more electricity than your neighbor in a similar home, and if so, what you can do about it?

Public Service of New Hampshire is pilot-testing a new program designed to answer that question and many others related to your energy consumption.

About 10,000 of the 25,000 households chosen randomly throughout the state to participate in the initiative have already received their first Home Energy Report, according to PSNH spokesman Mike Skelton. The remaining 15,000 reports will go out over the next five weeks, and will continue monthly at least for the next year.

After a one-year trial period, during which time various data points and formats will be field tested, the utility will recommend to the Public Utilities Commission whether the program should be expanded to all 400,000 PSNH customers in the state.

The utility is paying a vendor, Opower, to support the Web-based platform for the program, using revenue from the "System Benefit Charge" on electric bills, currently set at 0.33 cents per kwh. Any expansion of the program could require an increase in the "System Benefit Charge," which would have to be approved by the Public Utilities Commission.

Opower describes itself as a privately held software company that partners with utility providers around the world to promote energy efficiency.

"Opower has a way to ensure that the sampling is useful in that it's apples-to-apples comparisons among customers," Skelton said. The database compares a customer's electricity usage with 100 similar homes in the neighborhood, based on similar home size (square footage), home type and heating source. Opower can't account for variations in the number of occupants in a household.

Customers will also get to see how their energy use changes over time, will get personalized energy efficiency tips and access to online tools to save even more.

"We're offering the report to encourage customers to save energy," Skelton said.

Why would a company that makes money by selling electricity want consumers to use less of it?

"Like any business, we want customers to use the product we sell responsibly and efficiently," Skelton said, "and as everyone is aware, this winter we've had some particularly serious price spikes and volatility in the electricity market. If customers are able to use electricity more efficiently, that's less energy we need to buy during these volatile markets, which will save all customers money."

Customers in the program will see each month how their electricity consumption compares to all neighbors in their group, and to the most energy-efficient neighbors. Efficient neighbors are defined as the 20 homes in the sample of 100 with the lowest consumption.

Consumers will get messages like, "You used 1 percent less electricity than your most efficient neighbors," or "You used 22 percent more electricity than your efficient neighbors. This costs you about $122 extra per year."

Personalized tips to save energy will be available at psnh.com/savings for customers in the program.

"We only use your information to provide useful insights about your energy use," according to the program FAQ. "Your information is compiled anonymously and not shared with any of your neighbors. Only you can see your personal data."

PSNH forecasts a budget for energy efficiency programs annually; this program was selected and budgeted for 2014 with PUC approval.

dsolomon@unionleader.com