Virginia Democratic gubernational nominee Henry E. Howell has abandoned support of higher prices for electricity during periods of peak demand, a conservation concept he emphatically embraced in 1974.

Lt. Gov. John N. Dalton, the Republican nominee for governor, has opposed peak load pricing throughout the current campaign. Howell announced his changed position during a joint appearance with Dalton Thursday night at a meeting of the Prince William County Electric Cooperative in Manassas.

After Dalton explained his opposition in a speech. Howell said in response, "I'm against that, too."

Attention has been focused on peak load pricing in recent hearings on rate increases sought by the Virginia Electric and Power and Co. (Vepco). It has been proposed as a way of reducing the need for costly new generating plants by forcing customers, through higher prices, to reduce air-conditioner usage during hot summer afternoons.

At a 1974 Vepco rate hearing, Howell said to members of the State Corporation Commission, "I could get those air conditioners off right quick, unless you happenened to be the president of Vepco or about 250 other people in Virginia."

Making air conditioning too expensive for all but the rich contradicts Howell's populist stands. In a recent interview, he explained that 1974 statement this way:

"I was probably engaging in excess persuasion to make a point . A lot of times I will use phrases to grab the mind, to get it thinking, to wrestle it out of the trough it is in."

Dalton's opposition to peak load pricing is based on the recommendations of one of his policy advisers, Noman Cole, a Fairfax County engineer who is the former chairman of the State Water Control Board.

Cole and Dalton argue that higher prices during periods of peak demand will increase electric bills with out reducing need for generation capacity. They say that customers will forgo air conditioning on moderately hot afternoons, but on the hottest days will turn them on. This means the need for peak generating capacity will not change, they say, but that costly under-utilization of this capacity will be even higher on moderately warm days.

Dalton has urged Vepco, the state's largest utility, and the State Corporation Commission, which regulates utilties, to implement controls on the amount of electricity use that do not rely solely on high prices to reduce use. For instance, he said, utilities should install equipment to permit them to switch off customers' electric water heaters on hot afternoons, a technique that cuold create minor inconveniences but not increase bills or customer discomfort from the heat.

Howell said in an interview yesterday that his change in statements on peak-load pricing is the result of dissatisfaction with proposals for implementing it in Virginia and a refined understanding of peak-load terminology.

"A lot of times whey you haven't gotten completely conversant with the vocaulary of an art (you don't make the right distinctions). There is a world of difference between peak-load pricing and peak-load controls."

However, Howell said he is not ready to endorse any specific peak-load control at this time. "I oppose the pilot project that Vepco and the SCC want to carry out and I oppose every plan that I've heard discussed in Virginia so far. I don't feel that this nation is prepared to adopt any of self disciplining alternatives.

Howell said he opposed the Vepco pilot project because it would affect such a small number of customers and cost too much to carry out.

Howell and Dalton offered their views on energy and electricity prices to more than 1,000 persons attending the Prince William Cooperative meeting at Stonewall Jackson High School.

Howell recalled his successful fight with electric cooperatives in 1966 to force Vepco to pass on lower coal prices to the co-ops under a fuel adjustment clause then in effect. Such clauses allow Vepco to automatically pass on changes (usually increases) in the cost of fuel to customers.

Howell also restated his opposition to continuation of the fuel adjustment charge now. He said coal and oil prices have stabilized and elimination of the charge would encourage utilities to be more efficient.

Dalton said elimination of the fuel charge would not help consumers because utilities will simply recover the costs through regular rate increases. He said greater reliance on nuclear power and increased coal production are the best ways to control electricity costs.