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Economic and dam related articles

BPA Urging Conservation of Electricity

by Joe Harwood
The Register-Guard, March 25, 2005

PORTLAND -- Increasingly anxious about the unusually dry winter, the Bonneville Power Administration's top manager on Thursday asked Pacific Northwest residents to work harder to conserve energy now and into this summer to lessen the need for rate hikes this fall.

Speaking at a news conference that included officials from regional utilities, BPA Administrator Steve Wright noted that the region is in its sixth consecutive year of below-average rain and snow.

The lack of precipitation cuts the amount of hydroelectric power generated by a network of 27 Columbia Basin dams that supply 60 percent of the power consumed in the Northwest. Most Lane County utilities get all their power from Bonneville. The Eugene Water & Electric Board relies on Bonneville for about 70 percent of its electricity.

In addition to generating its own electricity, the federal power marketing agency buys electricity on the open market for distribution through the region.

As river levels drop in summer, Bonneville typically has to increase its purchases of costly market-rate power. If the Pacific Northwest cuts its energy use, that will decrease the open-market purchases, Wright said.

"We can't do anything about the weather, but we can do something about our energy use," Wright said.

He hinted that the low river levels and meager snow pack probably would push up the wholesale rates that Bonneville charges utilities in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

"The odds are if we did nothing, we are headed toward a rate increase," Wright said. "Energy conservation will mitigate future rate increases."

With river levels about 63 percent of normal and mountain snow pack well below that in Oregon and Washington, the coming summer is shaping up to be the 10th-lowest water year since record-keeping began in 1928.

Wright and others said 2005 isn't shaping up to be nearly as bad as 2001, which marked the second-worst drought in 77 years. The low river levels of four years ago, combined with California's botched deregulation effort and illegal market manipulation by firms such as Enron, caused West Coast power prices to skyrocket.

This year's dry conditions affect not only Bonneville's power purchases, but also the revenue that Bonneville and regional utilities, including EWEB, receive from selling their surplus hydro power. When water levels are average or better, the utilities sell that surplus power on the open market, generating revenue to help keep down rates.

In low-water years, such as the current one, Bonneville has less surplus power to sell.

Officials asked the public to take steps to save energy:

EWEB, the state's largest public utility and a national leader in energy conservation, offers several programs to help residential and commercial customers save power.

"We do conservation even when it's not fashionable," said John Mitchell, an EWEB spokesman.

Mitchell said the biggest opportunity to cut power usage is to participate in one of the utility's energy management programs. EWEB crews can inspect a home or business to make sure it is weatherized and not leaking heat out of the walls, windows or roof, he said. The utility offers low- and no-interest loans for conservation work.

In addition to solar water heating, efficient heat pump and various low-energy lighting programs, EWEB offers a residential program that switches out old thermostats for programmable digital models.

"The No. 1 energy user is space heating, and what Bonneville is asking us to do is timely because we still have some cool weather ahead of us," he said.

Mitchell said the digital thermostats can be set to come on in the morning and the evening when most people are at home, then shut off during the workday and at night when people sleep.

The Springfield Utility Board also offers weatherization programs, including low- and no-interest loans for insulation and window replacement, SUB spokeswoman Meredith Clark said. The Springfield utility also has programs to help consumers buy energy efficient appliances and electric and solar water heaters.

Clark said customers sometimes believe that they have to make a huge investment in their home or appliances to help conserve, and that the price tag can sometimes be too steep.

"But even the little things - turning off the lights or computer when you leave a room - add up," she said.

For more information, go to EWEB's Web site at or SUB's Web site at

Joe Harwood
BPA Urging Conservation of Electricity
The Register-Guard, March 25, 2005

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