On Wednesday OG&E hosted a round table discussion at Dan's Steakhouse for customers and other citizens of Woodward.

Brian Alford, OG&E managing director of public affairs, talked a great deal about the new smart meters and the smart hours programs that OG&E offer.

Alford said that Woodward will finally be getting smart meters installed later in the 4th quarter of this year.

"This is the electric company's way of going digital," Alford said of smart meters.

He said the new meters "will give customers access to more information than they ever had before."

According to Alford, with the smart meters customers will be able to see exactly how much energy they use during the day.

"This gives you the opportunity to save during the hot summer months and to help you manage your bill and manage energy consumption," he said.

When people are able to manage their energy consumption, it will help push back the need for a billion dollar power grid, according to Alford.

OG&E's Smart Hours program helps customers manage their electrical usage during the peak hours of 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays, when rates are higher because energy consumption is up.

These are typically the highest costing hours of the day and with the Smart Hours program, customers are shown different tips to help control their usage during these times, Alford said.

"Customers are also given a new thermostat that they can program to help with their energy savings," he said.

According to Alford, most customers in this program have seen a reduction of about $50 per month on their electric bill.

"That really adds up for those that are on a low or fixed income," he said.

Alford also spoke briefly about the transmission line projects that are going on in Northwest Oklahoma and how important these are to taking advantage of the wind energy opportunities in this part of the state.

OG&E EFFICIENCY PROGRAMS

Beverly Hardeman, OG&E educational program manager, discussed other ways that customers can save money by making their homes more energy efficient through weatherization practices.

These practices can include adding insulation to the attic; window caulking; placing weather stripping around doors; installing compressed fluorescent (CFL) lighting and other thermal improvements.

"Replacing the light bulbs to the CFLs can reduce lighting costs by 75 percent," Hardeman said.

OG&E sponsors a Home Energy Efficiency Program that's available to all customers which shares tips like these as it shows what areas of your home need improvement to help reduce your energy costs.

OG&E also sponsors a Home Weatherization Program which will make those efficiency improvements for those customers who meet certain income requirements.

The Weatherization Program even includes appliance checks to make sure equipment such as the refrigerator and air conditioner are running as efficiently as possible.

"In some cases we'll even replace your refrigerator," Hardeman said, noting that as one of the biggest energy consumers within the home, it is important to have an energy efficient refrigerator.

The Home Weatherization Program is broken down into 2 areas to help those with low or fixed incomes.

The first being the Fixed Income Weatherization Program which is open to people 65 and over, have an annual income of $35,000 or less and own and live in a single-family site built, owner occupied home constructed prior to 2000; and the second being the Low Income weatherization program which is offered to people that have an income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines and own or lease a single-family, duplex or mobile home constructed prior to 2000.

"Many here today will not qualify for this program," Hardeman said of the weatherization program as she addressed the group attending Wednesday's round table meeting.  "But you may know someone at church or someplace in the community that will benefit from it."

QUESTIONS

Toward the end of the round table meeting, Alford opened the floor up for questions.

Tommy Roedell, county commissioner for district 1, asked about the long term effects of the mercury contained in CFL lightbulbs and how that could add up over time in landfills.

Alford said that the EPA is watching this very closely and the best alternative is the new LED lights, that are still a bit pricey but are starting to become more affordable.

Roedell also asked if customers could opt out of the new smart meters.

Alford stated that in Oklahoma there is no opt out option.

He also claimed that if customers were allowed to opt out, "it will deteriorate the integrity of the system."

However, Alford said OG&E is committed to "making sure our customers are comfortable" with the new smart meters.  He tried to address some of the biggest concerns about the meter, such as privacy issues and health concerns.

The meters do not contain any personal information, Alford said, noting they just keep track of your energy usage.

Also as to concerns about whether radio waves emitted by the machines posed a health concern, Alford claimed one recent study determined that you "would have to live next to a smart meter for 30 years" before accumulating the same amount of radio wave exposure as from a single day's use of a cell phone.

In addition, he noted that smart meters "send data and then cut off, they are not continuously operating."

For those with more concerns about smart meters or who would just like to learn more about them, OG&E is willing to provide an in-depth PowerPoint presentation on the new smart meters to any group or business.

LaVern Phillips, with the Woodward Industrial Foundation, said he didn't have a question for OG&E but rather wanted to thank the energy company for its help in economic development in and around Woodward and for the quick response to the April 15 tornado.

"When it comes to storm response, unfortunately in this area we have a lot of practice," Alford said.  "We spend several weeks a year on the road, we are usually the first ones called during disasters."

He said OG&E workers train year round for response to natural disasters and want to continue to improve.

Alford also said the company believes in showing commitment to where they live and work and will do what it can to continue to bring jobs to Woodward.

"We are only as healthy as our communities," Alford said.