"It's my house and I don't like this," complained Dr. Albert F. Brendes, a dentist who lives in McLean. "It's not even American! It's not even a democracy!"
Brendes is angry because the Virginia Electric and Power Co. is going to install a new "time-of-usage (TOU) meter in his six-bedroom house that will enable his family to cut electric bills by using appliances late at night or early in the morning.
If the family does not change its electricity usage pattern, its bills will shoot up dramatically under the new system. The Brendes family and 9,000 others - Vepco's biggest residential users among a million Virginia customers - are not being given any notice in the matter. my routine," said his wife, Rena. "I
"I don't see why I have to change have a large family. No way I'm going to do my (housework) at night."
The kind of anger and distrust that Brendes feels about Vepco has been widespread since the company applied early this year for a 25 percent rate increase.
At the same time, as energy prices rise in the years ahead, Americans may be increasingly forced to conserve energy and to change their lifestyles accordingly. Brendes' plight indicates that such changes will not be painless.
"I don't want my wife to wash clothes at 10 o'clock at night," said Brendes, sitting in his comfortable living room one recent evening. He said he told a Vepco representative over the phone, "I forbid you to put the (new TOU) meter in."
Glimpsed that evening, the Brendes home seemed a bustling textbooks picture of the American suburban dream: a huge house, the lights burning brightly, music playing, one daughter rusing out on a date and three other active children appearing from time to time.
"This house does use a lot of electricity," the dentist admitted. " . . . This house has got everything: dehumidifier, electrostatic air filter, attic fan." At times the electric bill for a summer month comes to $300, he said.
On the other hand, the house is well insulated. The doctor put in storm windows when he moved in 13 years ago, and now he is changing his water heater from electric to gas.
"When Vepco put in the wiring for this (subdivision)," he recalled, "the deal was they would put in underground wiring if you used an electric water heater." He shook his head at the memory.
While Brendes does not want to be in the program, others who are clamoring to get in have been excluded. When Vepco announced a voluntary TOU program, some time ago, 20,000 earger Virginians applied - mainly those, the company said, whose life-styles were such that they apparently felt able to avoid high electricity use during the peak daytime hours of 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Only 2,000 were chosen for this voluntary program. At the same time, the 9,000 biggest residential users began receiving notices that they would be placed on the program on a mandatory basis.
The 2,000 volunteers will begin paying bills based on the new rate structure immediately, while the 9,000 high users will continue paying bills based on the old rate structure while at the same time receiving a second bill each month showing what they would pay if they were under the new TOU rate structure.
Thus they can experiment with their electricity use patterns, Vepco says. After a year, Vepco will tabulate the results of both the voluntary and mandatory programs and ask the State Corporation Commission, which regulates utility rates to decide how to further implement the TOU concept.
What worries Brendes and some others who have been targeted for the mandatory program is that the SCC may immediately after that hearing, place them under the new billing system since the special TOU meters allready will have been placed in their homes.
Thus Brendes and the 9,000 would either have to pay much bigger electric bills - since the rates under the new TOU billing system are much higher for 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., use weekdays - or go through the substantial inconvenience of altering their use patterns and thus their lifestyles.
At the same time, their high-use neighbors may have barely managed to avoid being in the initial target group - the 9,000 were chosen because they all used 3,500 kilowatt hours or more during one of the peak summer months - could go on using electricity during peak periods at the old rates.
As the program expands over the years, these neighbors, too, would be included in it, according to the company's tentative plans. If the experiments are successful, Vepco plans to add about 20,000 customers a year to it starting in 1981.
The company says it has targeted the biggest users first because they have the most "elasticity" in their use of electiricity. That is, they presumably can conserve large amounts that they now use or significantly shift their useage patterns, while smaller users may already be doing these things.
The TOU energy conservation concept, which is being implemented in many jurisdictions across the country, is designed to cut down on the peaks - or highest demand periods - that electric companies must meet by building expensive generating plants. The problem is intensified because these plants lie idle during periods between the peaks.
Vepco's critics have charged that it has dragged its feet for year sin implementing the program and is doing so in a way that makes it difficult for pavrticipants to make it work. The 12-hour peak demand period is too long for example, the critics say, to be convenient. In other states it is not so long, they say.
Lurking behind such criticisms is the suspicion that Vepco really does not want to conserve electricity because the company makes its profits by selling it.
"If they drive everybody into using less power then they'll say, 'We have excess (generating) capacity," and charge everbody more," said Emerson R. Either of Oakton, another of the 9,000 targeted for the mandatory program. "I feel deep in my bones they've got to make their money soem way. . . "
Adding to Either's distrust of the company is his belief that he has been unjustly included in the mandatory program. Since he bought his five-room bedroom house two years ago, He said he has never used more than 3,500 kilowatt hours in any single month - the cutoff point. The people he bought the house from did, however, he said.
Nevertheless, he said, a Vepco representative told him he will be in the program because his house has the "potential" to us a large amount of electricity. Even Eitner's argument that the potential had changed because he changed his hot water heater from electric to gas was to no avail.
"We had a kind of a circular conversation," said Eitner.
Brendes also said there was a kind of Big Brother quality to his dealings in joining the program. He said, with the company. For months, he resentative they were not interested 'You really don't have any choice. You have to do it.'"
This came as a shock. This is what caused Brendes to become angry, to call Vepco to "expound on freedom and all that jazz."
He learned that the SCC has approved the program, that he really doesn't have any choice in the matter. He sees no way he can fight it.
He he even becoming a little philosophical about it. "The trouble with the American public is that the only time we do something is when we're forced to do something," he mused.
A few days ago, his wife told a rep-Vepco and telephone talks with its officials left his family with the impression that the program was voluntary for them.