NIPSCO encourages customers to be energy savvy

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'Green' cars: Karl Stanley, vice president of commercial operations for NIPSCO, charges up one of the utility company's electric cars. | Carol Dorsett ~ For Sun-Times Media

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NIPSCO is inspired to be energy efficient, whether it’s by accelerating its customers’ awareness of electric vehicles, helping to lower electric costs and decrease use during the hot summer season or providing rebates to its commercial and industrial customers who have made smart energy choices.

Teaching tool on wheels

Merrillville-based Northern Indiana Public Service Co. has purchased four two-seater Think City electric cars from Think North America in Elkhart, and its employees are driving them to various community and company events in Northwest Indiana, said Karl Stanley, vice president of commercial operations for the utility company.

In fact, the sporty looking vehicles will be making an appearance at Northwest Indiana Earth Day, to be held in Valparaiso in April, Stanley said.

“This is more of a teaching tool. We want to make people aware of the electric vehicle itself,” Stanley said.

“We hope they will be eye-catching, that interest in the cars will be spurred,” added Kathleen Szot, a company spokeswoman.

Szot said employees are going through orientation so they can answer questions and provide information about the car during one of its many stops.

Getting a charge

Stanley said the utility company also has installed four charging station at its Merrillville headquarters, and soon hopes to make additional public stations available across northern Indiana. Szot said the stations have universal plugs, meaning any type of electric car can plug into them.

In addition to free use of these stations, NIPSCO now offers customers an incentive for installing charging stations in their homes. Vouchers of up to $1,650 towards the purchase and installation of an in-home charging station as well as free overnight charging during the pilot period are available to the first 250 customers (or until funding is exhausted).

Stanley said charging is one of the main hurdles facing the industry.

“People are concerned that they will be able to get from Point A to Point B without recharging,” he said.

While most electric vehicles can travel between 40 and 70 miles before a recharge is necessary, public stations will be necessary to make longer trips possible. NIPSCO is currently evaluating the right locations for these charging stations to alleviate some of this “range anxiety.”

Considering that electric vehicles travel at a fuel economy of roughly 100 mpg-e (miles per gallon-equivalent), this compares quite favorably to the traditional gasoline-driven vehicle, which can range from 10 to 40 miles per gallon depending on the make and model.

Stay cool, save money

With its Air Conditioner Cycling Program, residential electric customers can earn credits and reduce stress on the electric grid during peak summer months, Stanley said.

Under the voluntary program, a smart switch is installed on the air conditioner compressor, which will allow NIPSCO to cycle the air conditioner during times of peak demand.

“In most cases people won’t notice when the air is off, and the cycling will most likely occur during the weekday when people are at work,” Stanley said. He added that the fan continues to circulate to keep the air cool.

Cycling is done in brief intervals and is not done on weekends or holidays, according to the NIPSCO website.

To qualify for the program, you must be a NIPSCO electric customer, have a functional air conditioning unit of five tons or less and own a single-family home.

Stanley said there has been a fair response to the program, which was rolled out in mid-December.

Rewarding green businesses

NIPSCO’s Commercial and Industrial Rebate Program, provides businesses and organizations with rebates based on the installation of energy-efficient equipment and system improvements. The program is part of a new statewide initiative called Energizing Indiana, which Stanley said is a collaborative effort with the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, Citizens Action Coalition and other Indiana utilities. Upgrades can include lighting, variable frequency drives, heating and air conditioning, and efficient Energy Star commercial kitchen appliances.

Objectives of the program are to help commercial and industrial businesses lower electric energy consumption and decrease their costs, and to encourage vendors and contractors to promote and install energy-efficient technologies for those customers, according to the NIPSCO website.

Stanley said builders, contractors and big businesses are getting the word out about the program.

More information about NIPSCO is at www.nipsco.com.