How much is it worth to come home to a cool house on hot summer days?
A million dollars? Perhaps 20 bucks -- to cover the cost of a trip for two to an air-conditioned movie house and an icy gallon-sized Pepsi?
A Maryland utility is betting it is worth $110 to sacrifice a little bit of cool comfort.
Potomac Electric Power Co. will offer residents of Montgomery and Prince George's counties a $110 credit on their summertime bills in exchange for the right to turn off central air conditioners and heat pumps for no more than six hours at a time on up to 15 of the hottest workdays.
And while area officials and politicians say they like the idea of conserving energy, some question whether Pepco's plan isn't too draconian in a region known for sweltering summers.
"What if I were giving a big dinner party for 60 people and they turned off my air conditioning?" asked Prince George's County Councilwoman Sue V. Mills.
"And I question how much energy they would save. What's going to happen when you try to recover and bring your house down from 90 degrees to 75? That will take a lot of energy.
"They don't have a customer in me," she added.
Sue Tippett, who specializes in energy issues for Baltimore-based Associated Catholic Charities, said that her group supports conservation programs that reward people for cutting back.
"People need to figure out ways of getting by with less," she said.
But, she noted, since people on low incomes usually live in apartments and have window air conditioners, if any, many people who really need the money won't be eligible for Pepco's program.
Pepco, however, says it expects a rush of customers eager to sign up for its new Kilowatchers Plus Club, which went into effect Wednesday after being approved by the Maryland Public Service Commission.
Since the program is voluntary, those customers who want to keep their air conditioners roaring can do so, said Nancy Moses, a company spokeswoman.
Two years ago, a mailing asking for volunteers to try out an experimental version of the program got 450 volunteers, far more than the company expected, she said.
The credit participants will receive will cut household electric bills by $22 a month from June through October, Ms. Moses said. And reducing peak power demand is cheaper for Pepco than building a new power plant, she said.
The new program is expected to save the Washington-based utility 96 megawatts of power by 1995, she said. A megawatt is enough energy to light 10,000 100-watt light bulbs.
The new offering is simply an extension of an already-popular program that gives customers a credit of $9 a month from June through October in return for letting Pepco install a radio-controlled device that turns home central air conditioners and heat pumps off for 13 minutes every half-hour during times of heavy summer demand for electricity, Ms. Moses said.
Under the plan, Pepco will take another $2.50 a month off the bills of customers who allow a similar device to be placed on electric water heaters.
The devices cost Pepco about $130 apiece but are free to customers, Ms. Moses said.
Pepco already has about 100,000 customers for its original "Kilowatchers Club" and expects to get 48,000 people signed up for the new program by 1995, she said.