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NW Shows Conservation Really Works

by Gene Johnson, Associated Press
Spokesman Review, January 18, 2002

Residential customers save far more electricity than industry

SEATTLE -- Northwest residents saved more energy during last year's power crunch than officials ever expected, turning upside-down the notion that big energy savings are most likely to come from big industrial users.

"Demand for electricity is a lot more elastic than we thought," Marilyn Showalter, chairwoman of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, said Thursday. "We had no idea the response would be this strong."

Nicolas Garcia, a policy strategist for the commission, said that from June to October, residential customers of the three utilities the commission regulates -- Puget Sound Energy, PacifiCorp and Avista Corp. -- cut their power use by an estimated 622,000 megawatt-hours compared with the same period in 2000. That's enough to power 44,000 homes for a year.

Compare that with the estimated 12,900 megawatt-hours the utilities saved from January to September by buying back power from industrial users, or the 16,400 megawatt-hours Avista and PacifiCorp saved by having farmers cut back the use of their energy-guzzling irrigation pumps. Together, those megawatt-hours would power about 2,100 homes.

The utilities provided the numbers to the commission, which has yet to verify them, Garcia said.

Still, he added: "Before we got this data, most people thought the lion's share of the savings would come from industrial customers. This was unexpected."

In all, the three utilities cut their energy consumption in Washington state by 2.1 percent, or 651,300 megawatt-hours, from January to October, the commission reported.

In addition, the Bonneville Power Administration, which provides about 45 percent of the region's electricity, released figures Thursday showing its utility customers last year saved roughly enough energy to supply 80,000 homes.

Energy and government officials last year urged people to switch to efficient light bulbs and faucet heads and to find other ways to save power in response to the region's energy crunch, caused in part by California's failed electricity deregulation and compounded by a drought.

The BPA estimated that in response, residential customers installed 5 million low-energy, fluorescent light bulbs. Customers of Portland General Electric redeemed about 1 million coupons for the bulbs.

Puget Sound Energy, Avista and PacifiCorp all offered discounts to customers who cut energy use. For example, PacifiCorp offered a 10 percent bill reduction for customers who cut energy use 10 percent, or a 20 percent reduction for customers who cut it by 20 percent.

Puget Sound Energy also changed the way it charges customers, giving them discounts for energy use in off-peak hours after 9 p.m. Customers responded positively, Showalter said.

Showalter spoke Thursday at a two-day energy conference put on by Law Seminars International. She focused on conservation.

One challenge will be having people continue to conserve now that the energy crunch is over. The utilities are no longer offering bill reductions as an incentive; now that energy prices have dropped again, it's not worth it for them to pay customers to cut their use.

But in the long run, the potential savings from conservation are tremendous, Showalter said.

"Too often, we're talking about whether we need more supply, more transmission," Showalter said. "If you can reduce demand a little bit, it makes a big difference."

Gene Johnson, Associated Press
NW Shows Conservation Really Works
Spokesman Review, January 18, 2002

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