City may save from lower peak load in heat

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Monday’s hot and humid weather saw the residents and businesses of Austin set this year’s peak for electrical consumption.

Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Monday’s hot and humid weather saw the residents and businesses of Austin set this year’s peak for electrical consumption. A higher peak electrical load has two long-lasting side effects: one environmental, because more resources are used to create the energy; the other financial.

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The good news? The peak came in at a full three megawatts lower than last year’s peak. The lower Austin keeps its peak electrical load, the lower the base cost for electricity. Provided Austin doesn’t get an even hotter day yet this summer, it could mean a savings of $400,000.

Austin Utilities General Manager Jerry McCarthy credited customers with this year’s lower peak.

"We had a peak alert out and the community – private citizens as well as businesses – responded well," McCarthy said.

"People turned on generators," he said, referring to at least two nursing homes and the hospital. "Hormel and Weyerhaueser helped a lot by turning things off at their facilities. Plus our load management program helped by allowing us to turn a lot of the air-conditioning units on and off," he added, explaining that the utility encourages customers with central air conditioning to participate in the load management program.

Load management is an easy way for any customer with central air conditioning to help the utility control peak loads. With the simple installation of a switch, the load management program allows the utility to turn off customer’s central air conditioner’s compressor at peak times for a short period of time, which leaves cold air circulating but cuts energy consumption because the machine isn’t cooling new air for that period.

McCarthy said the news of the lower peak was the highlight of the Austin Utilities Board of Commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday. In other matters Tuesday, the board approved the following:

n The appointment of a board committee to work with staff in preparing the 2001 budget. Board members Jack Dunlop and Larry Pfeil will meet with staff at least twice a month from now until the budget is adopted in December. This is a departure from past practices, when staff would do the budget work alone and present it to the board upon completion.

"This will give the board more input into the process by working with the staff, rather than us bringing it to them after the fact," McCarthy said.

n A mutual aid agreement between Austin Utilities, the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The agreement makes it possible for the utility to be reimbursed for any work done assisting another utility in the process of recovering from a disaster. Rule changes from FEMA make any future spontaneous offers of help not reimbursable.

n A resolution allowing McCarthy to sign paper work with FEMA for costs incurred after the July 10 flooding. So far estimated costs directly caused by the flooding are at $30,000 for the municipal utility.

The board also heard a report on the feasibility of producing electricity from the Cedar River dam. Studies concluded there is not enough flow to justify the costs. In 1989, it was determined costs associating with making the dam a power source would approach $500,000, but that low water flow would mean between five and 21 years of operation before those costs would be paid back. An updated estimate was not available at the meeting.