A friend who works for PP&L was telling me of legislation passed here in PA (maybe Jeff has more info on this) ... which would legislate decreases in electric usage by a certain percentage within a certain period of time. For example, that in 20?? the utility would need to show that it had decreased usage by X%.
The problem would be how can the utility company do that to avoid being fined for failing to meet the requirements of the regulation. Many utility companies have installed "smart meters". They no longer have to send a fellow out to read your meter. The meter transmits the information directly back to the utility electronically.
Thus, if the utility is falling short of decreasing usage as required by the law, they can use the meter feedback to see who is being an "energy hog", and simply cut off the power to that consumer periodically to "decrease usage."
Except for raising prices to curtail consumption, the utility company (or companies) don't have much control over millions of consumers. There are some programs available to help with the costs of improving your energy usage, mostly related to heating costs.
With our local utility, PP&L, due to increase rates about 30% in 2010, I suppose that many people will be more conscious of their electric usage. It will be a double whammy for the consumers who have already been hit with higher costs for heating with gas and oil. For those of us who have electric heat in our homes, it's one giant whammy all at once. Pellet stoves are becoming a big topic of conversation Seems ironic that here we sit in the 21st century & we're not talking about hi-tech solutions ... we're talking about going back to heating with wood products just like they did two centuries ago! Oops ... what about those nasty carbon emissions?
If more people become unable to pay their electric bills, where does that leave the utility company? Maybe utility companies will be the next industry to need a bailout?