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August 2, 2011

Menken: Not getting what we didn't pay for

Rabbi Yaakov Menken is the Director of Project Genesis, a Jewish cyber-outreach organization based in Baltimore.

Two weeks ago, as the mercury soared to record highs across much of the United States, electrical demand rose with the temperature as air-conditioning systems ran full blast. Years ago, Baltimore Gas & Electric created a program called Peak Rewards, intended to help reduce demand when it neared capacity.

Roughly 453,000 customers (including the Menkens) were given remotely programmable thermostats with free installation -- and a catch: when necessary, BGE could shut off our air-conditioning compressors for 50%, 75% or even 100% of each hour during extraordinary situations. And for years, those customers were rewarded with monthly credits on their electricity bills during the summer months, whether or not the system was ever activated.

Friday of that week, the system was activated -- and people reacted as if they'd been coerced rather than given hundreds of dollars to participate in the program. Among the more intemperate [sic] remarks given to the Baltimore Sun: "What outrages me is there's no alternative for people in special circumstances."

There was, of course, always an alternative: not participating in the program. I'm not saying that it wasn't uncomfortable; our upstairs thermostat reported temperatures in the high-80s by 5 pm. But "Peak Rewards" was designed for times of peak demand, not when the outdoor temperature is 75.

It might not be the bargain we expected, but it was the agreement we made.

Even in circumstances like this one, we have to accept responsibility for the choices we have made. And personally, I still think we made the right decision!

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Culture, Guest Posts, Yaakov Menken


The problem, was in my opinion, misrepresentation. The suggestion was that it was something that would not be noticed, and would be cycled. Even before I was on Peak Rewards I would routinely block cooling to the *upstairs* which unlike your place would reach over 100 degrees on many days.

Obviously I had no idea how often they were activating the program. Given how they had described it, I figured it could have been every week.

On the day they activated it, this is what happened.

There were people in the house all day. We had initially requested one of their opt-out days (first one ever) since we had an inspection of the house that day. We were ignored. But as a result, we had been trying to cool both levels of the house until they cut it off. People in the house did not know how to physically cut off the fan, so the system cycled hot air from the upstairs into the downstairs and the main house fan operated all day (without the AC of course). As a result the *downstairs* temperature was in the mid 90s before they reactivated it, 9 hours later.

I was happy to take part in the system, but the event was not as it was represented when it was sold to me. I also use little power, my typical summer electricity bill *before* joining the program was $100 a month. If they simply had a program charging more for electricity at peak times and less off-peak, I could manage my own. As it was, I left their program.

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About Matthew Hay Brown
Matthew Hay Brown writes and blogs about faith and values in public and private life for The Baltimore Sun. A former Washington correspondent for the newspaper, he has long written about the intersection of religion and politics. He has reported from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, traveling most recently to Syria and Jordan to write about the Iraqi refugee crisis.

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