Power play 

Entergy paying customers to let it turn down their A/C.

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Entergy Arkansas is trying to enlist its residential customers in a program that would automatically let temperatures go up to keep the utility's costs down.

Residential customers taking part in Entergy's Summer Advantage Program agree to the installation of a device called a Direct Cycling Unit on their central air conditioning units that will shut down compressors during periods of peak electricity use. Those who sign up before July 31 will get rebates either $50 or $80, depending on the reduction in A/C.

The utility announced the program to its 700,000 customers last month.

Entergy is upfront about the fact that, while the compressor is off, indoor temperatures will rise. And with a relentless chain of 100-plus highs in our immediate future, some Central Arkansans are wary about signing up. "There's many things in my life that I don't have control over ... therefore, I like to keep control over what I can control. And I like being in control of my own thermostat," Peggy Young Seamon wrote on the Arkansas Times Facebook page.

But other customers, especially those who keep their thermostats high anyhow, seemed to welcome the rebate. About 1,895 Entergy Arkansas customers have volunteered for Summer Advantage so far, and 756 DCUs have been installed.

The compressor in an air conditioning unit turns itself on and off multiple times throughout the day to protect its motor from overheating. The DCU, which is about the size of a child's shoebox, connects to the appliance and measures how many minutes the compressor cycles on each hour. During the hottest part of the day, generally mid-morning to mid-afternoon, compressors' switch on en masse to keep interior temperatures stable. In times of peak usage, the DCU shuts off the compressor either 50 to 75 percent longer than it did during the previous hour. If a compressor blew cold air for 30 minutes in the previous hour, and the customer is on a 50 percent cycle, the compressor would only blow cold air for 15 minutes of every hour during peak usage. According to Entergy, "peak usage" can last up to four hours. Summer Advantage will primarily cycle down compressors on weekdays before 7 p.m. The DCUs, which are remotely controlled by the utility, would only be activated on weekends and holidays in the case of an unforeseen crisis. "When commercial businesses aren't in operation, it offsets demand considerably. We're still monitoring that demand level every day, especially during the summer when we're in triple digit temps, but it's usually lighter on weekends and holidays," said Julie Munsell, an Entergy spokesperson. Customers who sign up for the program at 50 percent cycling will receive $50, paid out as $25 upon installation and $25 in December. Those who select 75 percent cycling will receive a $40 upon installation and $40 in December.

Munsell said most customers won't notice a change on their bills, but if there is a change, it should be for the better. "When the compressor cycles off, the fan continues to run, which helps mitigate the change in temperature and keep the house as cool as possible. This is so your unit doesn't have to work harder when it cycles back on to get back to its setting," she said.

The program should, however, save the utility, and ultimately the customers, money. "We estimate how much power we're going to need, and then we procure that," said Munsell. "If we find ourselves in a situation where there's a peak demand and we can't supply that, then we have to go out and purchase it," which is expensive on the open market. "If we can better manage that load for power during peak periods, then it's ultimately better for the customer in terms of keeping those costs down and also reducing the carbon footprint."

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