NewsChannel 10 Investigates: Xcel Energy saver switch boxes - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

NewsChannel 10 Investigates: Xcel Energy saver switch boxes

AMARILLO, TX- Air conditioning companies across Amarillo are busy fielding phone calls from residents who believed their A/C unit was dying this week after reporting their house wasn't cooling properly. As it turns out, several homeowners experienced the same problem.

Here's what NewsChannel 10 found out:

Over the last three years, Xcel Energy has been installing what they refer to as "saver switches." The switch is mounted inside a box that's either connected on top of or next to your A/C unit. When usage hits peak levels like we often see during the summer, the company has the ability to flick a switch that cuts back on the amount of time your central air works to cool your home.

On Tuesday afternoon, power usage was at an extreme high, which forced the company to activate the switches to conserve energy for the first time this fiscal year.

"We send out a signal to the box and it cycles the compressor on the air conditioner in 15 to 20 minute intervals to keep the compressor from constantly running," Wes Reeves with Xcel Energy explained. "I know in Minnesota where the program started, they have gotten up to the point where they are saving more than 300 megawatts. That's actually the size of a power plant."

The company is even offering $50 bill credits each year to customers who agree to have the optional box installed. Since the program launched, more than 500,000 customers across the nation have taken advantage of the offer.

However, some air conditioning repair specialists aren't thrilled about the incentive the energy company is dishing out to its customers.

"The $50 credit is a problem in a sense that they (Xcel Energy) determine when they want to cut off your air conditioner," Gary Ward with Gary's Heating and Air Conditioning said. "On a day like we had Tuesday when it's 103 degrees, they'll turn it off."

That's when Ward says phone calls start pouring in from residents who either had forgotten the box had been installed or didn't know it was there to begin with.

Xcel Energy says they only install the boxes on customers who choose to "opt in" for the service bill credit. Reeves stresses that the program isn't for everyone, especially the elderly or small children.

There is no contract or commitment associated with the box.

Reeves says it can be installed or removed at any time.

All the customer has to do is place a call into Xcel Energy to schedule a time for a certified technician to come out.

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