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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Save power now, save money later

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Save power now, save money later

The electricity buzzing along lines in Baker City will cost more starting Oct. 1. But how much more depends in part on how much power residents can save. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).
The electricity buzzing along lines in Baker City will cost more starting Oct. 1. But how much more depends in part on how much power residents can save. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).

By JAYSON JACOBY

Of the Baker City Herald

Sweat a little more this summer and you may sweat a little less when you peruse your electric bills this fall.

The dollar amounts printed on those bills will be bigger than youre used to thats a guarantee.

But how much bigger depends in part on how well you play the game of energy conservation, said Steve Schauer, member services manager for Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative.

The game starts now.

Schauer said officials from the Bonneville Power Administration have asked each of the utilities that buy BPA power to cut their load by 10 percent.

OTEC buys about 60 percent of its electricity from BPA.

If BPAs customers can meet the 10-percent target, the agency wont have to buy as much power on the wholesale market, where prices have skyrocketed over the past year, Schauer said.

And that would mean BPA wouldnt raise its rates as much beginning Oct. 1.

If OTEC and the dozens of other cooperatives and private utilities that buy BPA power can curb their energy appetites, the agency believes it can hold its rate hike to 100 percent, Schauer said.

But if most of BPAs customers fail to achieve the 10-percent load cut goal, the agency estimates its rates will rise 150 percent to 300 percent, he said.

For OTEC customers, the difference between the two scenarios above could be a bunch of dollars.

Schauer said OTEC officials estimate that if BPA raises its rates 140 percent, OTEC customers would see a 50 percent hike in their bills starting Oct. 1.

A smaller BPA rate hike probably would translate into smaller OTEC bills. The opposite, of course, also is true.

OTECs message, then, is simple: be careful with every kilowatt.

We need to call upon all our customers to seriously conserve, Schauer said. People need to invest in conservation and do it now.

Meeting BPAs 10-percent target will be difficult, Schauer said.

It just depends on how serious all our customers think this is, and how aggressively they go about trying to do it, he said.

Aggressive means more than turning off the light when you leave a room.

Schauer said residents who have an electric air-conditioner or heat pump can save a lot of power by resisting the urge to set the thermostat at arctic levels when outside temperatures turn tropical.

During the winter, residents can ward off chills more cheaply by buying a heavy coat or comforter than by twisting that thermostat dial ever higher, he said.

Businesses, which are facing the same rate hikes this fall as homeowners, can substantially cut their power use by either installing the more efficient T-8 fluorescent tubes, or by simply turning off some of their lights, Schauer said.

Albertsons grocery store in Baker City, for example, has slashed its electricity load by about half by shutting off every other bank of lights.

We need to have other businesses do the same thing, Schauer said.

Stores that convert to the T-8 lights may qualify for rebates from BPA, he said.

Although OTEC hopes to achieve BPAs 10-percent goal solely through customers voluntary efforts, the cooperative may consider offering incentives to encourage residents and businesses to conserve power, Schauer said.

It is going to be very challenging (to meet the 10-percent target), he said. But it certainly would be within our realm to do that.

In addition to the one thing OTEC customers should plan for larger power bills theres one thing they shouldnt a capital credits refund in December.

For the past six years the cooperative has refunded a portion of each customers capital credits account, similar to a dividend a shareholder in a private company might receive.

But to absorb some of the coming BPA rate hike rather than pass the entire amount on to its customers, OTEC will have to spend the money it otherwise would have refunded, Schauer said.

Most customers received a $20 to $50 refund.

Following are several tips for saving energy. More information is available by calling OTEC at 523-3616.

Cooling/Heating

This is the real power glutton, accounting for an average of about 44 percent of the typical homes energy bill.

But its also where you can save the most energy and money.

The most effective energy-saving step involves the thermostat. Reducing the setting by one degree during the winter will lower your bill by an estimated 2 percent.

If your heating system is the forced-air variety, check the ducts for leaks occasionally. A breached duct that spews warm air into the crawl space beneath your home can add hundreds of dollars to your heating bill without doing a thing to keep your toes toasty.

If you have a central furnace, clean or replace its filter once a month, or as needed. Make sure furniture or carpeting isnt blocking furnace vents.

Dont ignore ventilating fans in the kitchen or bathroom. Fans pull air out of your home, so turn them off as soon as theyve done their job.

Water heater

Heating water for cooking, bathing and cleaning accounts for about 14 percent of an average homes power bill.

Turning down the thermostat on the water heater by 10 degrees can lower your bill 3 percent to 5 percent. Many heaters are pre-set at the factory to an unnecessarily hot setting.

Hot water storage tanks and pipes should be insulated; but dont cover the thermostat.

Other ways to save on water heating costs include installing low-flow shower nozzles, repairing leaky faucets and using your washing machines cold or warm cycles.

Switching from the hot cycle to the warm can halve the amount of energy used per load.

Windows

Although windows can help warm your home by allowing sunlight in, they also are responsible for 10 percent to 25 percent of your heating bill.

The higher percentages are for homes with single-pane windows.

Obviously, replacing single-pane with double-pane windows will lower that number. If thats not possible, consider installing storm windows or insulating window shades.

Keep windows clean, especially those facing south, to maximize solar heating during the winter.

Lighting

Compact fluorescent bulbs cost more than the incandescent type, but they use 70 percent less electricity and may last 10 times longer.

Use the lowest-wattage bulb possible to meet your lighting needs.

Fireplaces

If you dont use yours, plug and seal the chimney flue.

If you do have an occasional fire, open the damper only when theres actually a blaze merrily burning. Leaving the damper open above a cold fireplace allows the warm air your furnace is heating to escape straight up the chimney, like the Grinch making off with another load of purloined decorations.

Although fireplaces are inherently inefficient heating appliances, tempered glass doors and a heat-air exchanger that blows warmed air out into the room will improve their performance.

Dishwashers

Run it during the middle of the day if possible thats when demands on the regions power system are lowest.

Wash full loads, and use the energy saver feature if your washer has one.

Air dry clean dishes if possible.

Computers

Many newer computers have a sleep feature that saves energy when youre not using the computer, but doesnt require the machine to be turned on and off repeatedly, which can cause damage.

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