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Project helps consumers gauge power usage online

A Green Bay-based power company is taking part in a pilot project that may help utility customers better manage their electricity usage.

Wisconsin Public Service is only one of eight power companies in the world taking part in the web-based project.

The program is being launched by Internet search engine Google. It will let utility customers track hour by hour power usage via an online "Google gadget."

Barb Nick, WPS's senior vice-president for customer service, says she's one of 50 WPS users involved in the pilot project. Her own Google Power Meter showed a spike in midday.

"At noon you might be doing washer, dryer, dishwasher oven if people come home for lunch. We see big spikes in our usage when the dryers on and the microwave ... and our treadmill."

Nick says research shows customers will reduce consumption 5-15 percent, if they're aware of where the juice is going.

"So the reason we want to pilot that is to see if that research works. And if customers are aware of their usage because electricity is invisible, if they can see their usage then can they save energy and still maintain comfort and convenience they want while reducing the impact on the environment and save money in their pocketbook."

If the year-long pilot project goes smoothly, Nick says WPS will offer the free service to all of its customers. Besides WPS, five other U.S. power companies are taking part along with one in Canada and one in India.