Puget Sound Energy held another ‘flex event’: Why this one was different

Feb 7, 2024, 5:57 PM | Updated: Feb 8, 2024, 2:28 pm

Image: Puget Sound Energy crews prepare for a windstorm....

Puget Sound Energy crews prepare for a windstorm. (Photo courtesy of PSE Flickr)

(Photo courtesy of PSE Flickr)

Another Puget Sound Energy (PSE) “flex event” took place Thursday morning. It occurred from 7-10 a.m.

But this one wasn’t a repeat of what happened during the frigid cold snap last month.

“What happened in January was we put out a note to all our customers – gas or electric,” PSE spokesperson Melanie Coon said. “Because there was an outage on our Jackson Prairie generation facility in Lewis County, by asking people to conserve, that helped provide a cushion on the system to where we didn’t get into a stress on the grid.”

Unlike last time, only PSE’s electric customers were affected— and the event was not triggered by extreme weather.

“This is more to see what we can learn when things aren’t in the extreme ranges,” Coon said. “These events happen not only during the extreme temperatures, but also when where we know we’re having steady use in the higher ranges when people are using their heat.”

PSE couldn’t say why higher demand was expected on Thursday specifically, but said it is not uncommon to see spikes in utility usage throughout the winter.

Image: An energy monitor in Bryan Bell's home shows him how many watts he's using and how much it's costing him.

An energy monitor in Bryan Bell’s home shows him how many watts he’s using and how much it’s costing him. (Photo: Rachel Belle, KIRO Newsradio)

What is a flex event?

PSE Product Development Manager Tom Smith previously told KIRO Newsradio customers, by default, receive messages to adjust their energy usage during the event period, but there is no penalty for higher energy costs if they do not.

“Making small adjustments here and there can actually go a long way in helping us reduce the overall energy demand across the system,” Smith said.

Customers enrolled allow PSE to automatically lower the thermostat during flex events.

By default, all PSE customers are enrolled in flex event notifications. Smith said customers must opt-out to discontinue the alert notifications. If customers don’t mind letting PSE control their home thermostat, they can opt for a program called Flex Smart.

Residential electric customers with an AMI smart meter, a two-way communication system between the meter and the utility, and a smart thermostat like a Google Nest, could see the thermostat’s set temperature drop between two and three degrees.

More on flex event participation

All PSE customers are enrolled in notifications by default and must opt out if they wish to. You may receive those by email, text, or phone. But those who take the extra step to enroll in Flex Smart (for smart thermostats) or Flex Rewards can get added incentives, including rebates. Customers who enroll in Flex Smart get an upfront enrollment bonus of $50 for signing up and $20 per season for staying enrolled. For Flex Reward members, it’s $25 for enrolling, $1 per kilowatt hour saved, and $15 for each year of enrollment.

Participation is completely voluntary, as is the case with all flex events. And there’s no consequences for using more energy during that time, according to PSE. If you have a smart thermostat, it will automatically lower the temperature around two or three degrees during a flex event. But a customer can override it without any penalty.

Puget Sound Energy’s electric service covers all of Kitsap, Skagit, Thurston, and Whatcom counties as well as parts of Island, Kittitas, and King and Pierce counties (excluding Seattle and Tacoma). During the hours of the flex event customers are asked to reduce their thermostats and avoid doing dishes with their dishwasher or doing laundry. PSE reports that during the last flex event on Jan. 17, more than 273,000 customers participated — despite the below-freezing temperatures across much of Western Washington.

Contributing: Matt Markovich, KIRO Newsradio

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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