It used to be standard practice---when the temperature rose into the high 90s in San Antonio in the summertime, we would hear a notice...please don't use your heavy appliances between 3PM and 7PM because electric power is being snapped up by all the air conditioning units in use.


  Wonder why we didn't hear that this past summer?


  CPS Energy has entered into a unique agreement with several institutional electricity users, like schools and universities.  CPS Energy pays them to reduce their power consumption significantly on those days, so homes and businesses don't have to.


  "We call them when the need arises, and within two hours they will take action to reduce their needs at that moment," said Frank Almaraz , CPS Energy's vice president of corporate development and planning.


  Called the Demand Response program, the  210 industrial and commercial customers, including five local school districts, colleges and universities were called on 17 times in the past summer to reduce their electricity demand.  Since they generally have less need for electricity during the summer when fewer students are on the campus, they were able to switch off power in buildings and classrooms.  The process saved 68.2 megawatts of power, or enough for 17,000 homes.


  Almaraz says there is another benefit as well.


  "It is certainly going to delay our need to construction more expensive infrastructure, both transmission and distribution and power plants," he said.


  Commercial customers are paid based, essentially, on the amount of electricity they do not use.  Five institutions received $336,000 in payments from CPS Energy.


  The key factor in Demand Response is the fact that so called 'peak power,' the electricity a utility has to generate, or buy, at the handful of peak demand periods of the year, is the most expensive electricity on the market.  In some cases, the 10% of 'peak power' costs as much to generate as the other 90% of routine power.  If that peak power demand can be curtailed, it can save a lot of money for a utility, and for customers.