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The ominous annual message arrived from Ketchikan Public Utilities the other day: We’ll be going to diesel power this week, during the daytime, as a hedge against the day when we won’t have enough hydro.
Right now, we do have hydroelectric power reserves. But officials wisely decided that it’s best to use the diesel generators on our own terms, during the more efficient (and thus cheaper) hours, than to wait until we are plumb out of hydro and need to run the diesels 24/7.
None of us likes spending more money on electricity. Though we realize our power here in Alaska’s banana belt is cheaper than in other places, it doesn’t feel very cheap when we open our KPU electric bills. Now a diesel surcharge will start appearing, blessedly spread out over several months so we don’t have to take the financial hit all at once.
We can take steps to lessen the pain. The good people of Juneau learned pretty darn quick how to save power when an avalanche took out that city’s main hydro line and enforced more expensive power for months on end back in 2008.
We can do likewise to help lower our use and our bills:
Turn the heat down a little, and put on a sweater.
If possible, supplement electric heat with wood.
When washing — dishes, clothes — do large loads. Use cold water if possible to save on the hot-water heater use.
Turn lights off. And don’t turn on those holidays lights until you are home to enjoy them.
Use energy-efficient light bulbs.
Eat dinner by candlelight! Romantic. But don’t let any candles burn unattended — one doesn’t want to risk a fire while saving on kilowatt hours.
A study at the University of California Davis after the Juneau experience showed that demand there fell 25 percent after the avalanche, most of it even before people started paying bigger bills.
“A survey of residential customers indications that the average household undertook 10 conservation actions,” UC Davis reported, “with major changes in lighting, space heating, fuel switching, and water and appliance use.
People kept up some of that conservation even after the hydro transmission line was restored.
What Juneau did — under more trying circumstances — we can do. Let’s look to our neighbors’ good example, and save energy. It might be a lasting gift to ourselves this holiday season.