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February 2001 Douglas County Citizens come through in Times of Crisis

Guest Editorial from the Douglas PUD Commissioners Lynn M. Heminger, Michael Doneen and T. James Davis

February 26, 2001

DOUGLAS COUNTY CITIZENS COME THROUGH IN TIMES OF CRISIS…

We don’t think the news should be sugar coated. There is an energy shortage in the Northwest states.

The shortage is not caused by California, although that state’s failed market structure is certainly one reason why energy prices are high. The lowest flows in the Columbia since 1977 contribute to the shortage by reducing the hydroelectric system’s generating capacity. But the main problem is that virtually no one has been building new generating resources because of uncertainty surrounding possible electric industry restructuring, because of a tendency to rely on the federal power system and because of a regulatory structure that encourages the “not in my backyard” syndrome.

We want to be very clear. Douglas PUD, as a result of long-term planning, has a very healthy electric supply picture. With use of Wells Project output and contracts with other utilities, Douglas PUD has a power supply adequate to meet power demand at current growth projections until 2017. In 2018, the Wells Dam power sales contracts expire allowing Douglas and Okanogan Counties increased access to the output from our hydroelectric project.

We are not selling power into California. You see, we would much rather see electricity applied to a legitimate use in Douglas County than to have it exported to other areas. Our staff is focused on meeting the needs of Douglas County customers.

Even though Douglas PUD has sufficient energy to meet electric needs in Douglas County, our community is not immune to the economic impact that the energy shortage will have on our state. Utilities outside of Douglas County are facing enormous wholesale electric rate increases—possibly greater than two hundred percent. The impact to Washington state communities, schools, businesses and citizens on both sides of the Cascades is unavoidable without decisive action.

To cope with this problem, utilities throughout the Northwest are working to increase power supply and reduce electricity consumption. Although it is a short-term solution, all of us should be good citizens by avoiding waste of electricity.

Here is some good news. Douglas County residents and businesses appear to have cut back on their use of electricity in response to reports of high prices and energy shortages up and down the West Coast. Governor Locke has requested that people reduce their energy use by ten percent. A ten percent reduction would be a tough target for most of us to hit. Even so, with our normal amount of conservation advertising, Douglas County is responding. We see electric usage running about four percent below what we would expect after adjusting for the influence of weather. This is comparable to results in Seattle, Tacoma, and Snohomish County where utilities are running substantial advertising campaigns. Congratulations! Can we do more?

Sacrifice and risk are words the regional community must become familiar with. But these are not new concepts to people in Central Washington.

When Wells Dam was built, the projected cost of the power from the new dam was more than twice the cost of power from BPA. The commissioners and community at the time realized that power supply was a long-term proposition requiring commitment and sacrifice. Likewise, meeting environmental challenges has come with high prices and reduced generating capability. But with community support, we have rolled up our sleeves and made a difference.

The same is true of the Northwest’s current energy crisis. It will take long-term commitment to overcome the supply shortage. All citizens must make a commitment to energy efficiency and waste avoidance, to diverse new generating resources, to creating an environment in individual communities that is friendly to building modern electric generation stations and to protect the environment at the same time we protect our economy and way of life. In fact, even though our supply is adequate, we are investigating possible wind generation sites, along with solar and fuel cell technologies.

We encourage Douglas County citizens to use the electric energy they need. Our low cost reliable electricity is a tremendous asset. We ask with great emphasis that everyone avoid the meaningless waste of electricity. Your efforts to save electricity may save a job in another rural community that is harder hit by this crisis. Every kilowatt-hour of electricity saved goes to other northwest utilities and will reduce the chance of enormous regional rate increases. Your efforts have already been effective. You can continue to contribute to the short-term solution while the Northwest community develops a long-term commitment to energy supply adequacy.