Electric vehicle owners in areas served by New Hampshire Electric Cooperative will be able to get cheap power for recharging their cars, as long as they do it at night or on weekends.

NHEC announced Friday that it would become the state’s first utility to offer time-of-day pricing, although only for charging electric cars during off-peak hours.

The idea is to reduce the burden that electric vehicles place on the power grid, without discouraging them as a new source of business.

“They are going to be a growing source of electric load, and it’s new demand mostly,” said Seth Wheeler, spokesman for NHEC. “We don’t want to have to build new power plants to meet this new need. If they charge during periods of low demand, there’s plenty of power and we can avoid the need to build generation.”

This would also reduce the burden on the transmission system at peak times, Wheeler said.

Under the program, cars will be connected to a separate meter than the rest of the home, and their use will not affect the rest of the customer’s power bill.

The program won’t make much difference to begin with. NHEC gives a rebate of up to $1,000 for its members to buy electric vehicles, and only 42 people have taken it up so far, Wheeler said. But that figure is expected to grow as the number of different electric ar models increases, as does their capability.

Under the program, NHEC will offer rebates of up to $300 to residential members who install a Level 2 charging station, one at 240 volts, in its service territory. That will not cover the full cost of installation, which can vary depending on the location of a home’s electric panel and garage.

NHEC members who already have a Level 2 charger can get the rebate if they sign up for off-peak charging and install a dedicated meter.

Starting May 1 during off-peak hours – 9 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, and all weekends and holidays – the cost of charging will be be 8.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is 42 percent lower than the basic residential rate of 14.9 cents. To discourage people from charging their cars at the wrong time, on-peak charging will cost 22.5 cents, about 50 percent above the standard rate.

NHEC can make this move for two reasons.

First, as a cooperative it does not need regulatory permission to change the rates it charges customers, unlike regulated utilities. Liberty Utilities, for example, has proposed establishing some different rates during the day as part of a pilot program in Lebanon involved at-home batteries, but it needs to get an OK from the Public Utilities Commission first.

Second, NHEC has installed “smart” meters throughout its customer base, and has a system that can keep track of when power is used during the day.

NHEC, headquartered in Plymouth, has about 84,000 customers in 115 towns and cities, mostly rural areas, scattered throughout the state, including Canterbury, Northfield and Loudon.

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