Conservation is key element in regional electrical crisis

Published on Thu, May 24, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Conservation is key element in regional electrical crisis

By Meg Olson

Conservation may be the key to keeping electrical rates from skyrocketing this fall, and the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is asking all its customers to cut back.

Last week city staff met with representatives from 27 of Blaine City Light’s biggest customers to discuss how to meet the ten percent load reduction BPA is asking from the city and the potential consequences of failing to meet that goal. “The amount of the wholesale rate increase we’ll see in October is up in the air right now,” said city manager Gary Tomsic. “It could go up from 100 percent to 300 percent, depending on how much power BPA has to purchase on the open market.” If demand from BPA customers exceeds the amount of power it can generate, it will need to buy the power to meet its contract obligations. If BPA customers can curtail their use enough, it will mean lower rates. Tomsic said he expects Blaine will raise power rates as the city pays more for electricity, but the retail increase is likely to be half the wholesale rate hike due to economies within the city utility.

Tomsic said most businesses were happy to put conservation programs in place, especially when rolling blackouts, demand-metering and a tripling of power rates were the alternative.

“We already have lots of departments turning off lights, individual people trying to do their part,” said Inn at Semiahmoo manager Sandy Heydt. She said the company anticipated installing an automated energy management system to monitor and regulate the hotel’s systems. “We’ve also formed a conservation committee consisting of employees from different parts of the resort to come up with power-saving ideas and put them in place,” Heydt said.

Semiahmoo Hotel Company is the city’s second biggest power user, representing close to five percent of the city’s power load. The 12 biggest power users in Blaine consume 35 percent of the city’s power. The top power user is the federal government. Border facilities use over seven percent of the city’s power. Third on the list is the Blaine school district.

“With the passage of the bond, power conservation is near the top of our list,” said school district director of operations Ron Butcher. “Part of what the bond covers is control systems. At the middle school, for example, right now we have gas-fired boilers but we can’t program them to turn on and off.”

Butcher said the school was reducing lighting in less-used areas, turning down heaters and hot water heaters, and working with vendors to reduce the electrical usage of vending machines at the school.

The city is number five on the list of top users and Tomsic said results of a growing conservation plan were already apparent. “City Hall’s bill for the last quarter was reduced six percent with some fairly obvious measures,” he said.

City staff are evaluating further cutbacks, such as turning off streetlights in some locations where it wouldn’t create a safety hazard. “This conservation stuff is becoming serious,” Tomsic said. “It’s going to go beyond turning the heat down. We’ll be coming back with some more aggressive measures.”

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