July 24, 2001
Serving Western Deschutes County
Sisters, Oregon

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© 2001
The Nugget Newspaper
Sisters, Oregon
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Comments to
Eric Dolson, Publisher

Power rates expected to go up this fall
By Jim Cornelius

As drought reduces hydroelectric power in the Pacific Northwest, local utilities are predicting a price increase of 25 percent or more starting in October.

According to Jim Crowell, member services director for Central Electric Cooperative, the co-op board of directors met with rate consultants on Thursday, July 19, to discuss how to handle a 51 percent increase in power costs to CEC from the Bonneville Power Administration.

A final decision on the amount of a rate increase is expected in August, Crowell said. He anticipates that residential customers will see their bills go up somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 percent.

Commercial/industrial and irrigation accounts will also see their bills go up.

The rate increase will hit just as local residents start turning on their electric heaters to ward off the chill of the coming winter. The vast majority of CEC customers use electricity as their primary source of heat, so usage and cost will rise together.

Crowell acknowledged that home heating and heating hot water are the "big ticket" items for Sisters area homeowners.

He recommends acting now to make sure the home is well insulated to hold heat. Turning down the thermostat on the water heater a mere two or three degrees can create savings, according to Crowell.

Heat pumps can be an effective way to cut usage, Crowell acknowleged.

The pumps are considered a more efficient alternative to conventional heating systems when temperatures are above the low 20s.

Heat pumps draw heat from ambient air, pumping it through heating coils, rather than pushing air across a heating element. They can reduce year-round electricity draw.

"We have a heat pump loan for that purpose," Crowell noted.

Beyond those mechanical measures, residents might make some lifestyle changes, keeping the thermostat lower and wearing a sweater in the house, taking shorter showers and generally being more conservation-oriented.

CEC will start a serious conservation campaign as fall approaches with its higher bills, Crowell said.

Some users will feel the pinch of higher bills months down the road. Irrigators are likely to see the biggest increase of any user classification. That's an unusual circumstance, attributable to drought and high demand.

Crowell acknowledged that increased power costs could really put a pinch on local farmers who are already facing losses due to drought.

"It could be difficult," Crowell said.

Difficulties could continue and multiply if the drought continues, bringing a dry -- and cold -- winter. Not only could residents be forced to use more of the increasingly expensive power, the means of generating it could be even further depleted by continued dry weather.

If that happens, Crowell cautioned, BPA could adjust the cost of the power supply, forcing another rate hike.

For more information on CEC programs and energy saving tips, visit the website at www.centralelectriccoop.com or call 548-2144.

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