Data Sense: Yampa Valley electricity use surges ahead



Brandon Owens

— It’s easy to forget the important role electricity plays in powering the Yampa Valley. It heats our homes, lights our town and electrifies our critical industries. This all happens behind the scenes, largely invisible from sight. Perhaps this is why the role of electricity hasn’t been much of a focus during the past five years as the region has worked through the effects of the Great Recession.

A recent Yampa Valley Data Partners analysis of electricity usage data from Yampa Valley Electricity Association highlights the critical role that electricity plays in our community. The YVEA data indicates that electricity use in the valley has continued to grow steadily throughout the past several years even while many other economic and social indicators moved down in the wake of the recession. In addition, the YVEA data indicates that 2013 is shaping up to be another banner year for electricity use.

YVEA’s account usage summary data provides electricity monthly usage levels and the number of customers by rate and location. This data is a rich source of information about electricity usage by customer group. This YVEA data indicates that total electricity use in 2012 was about 525 gigawatt hours. (One GWh of electricity is equal to 1 million kilowatt hours.) It’s hard to grasp the magnitude of these numbers, so consider the fact that 1 kWh is the amount of electricity that is used to power a 100-watt light bulb for 10 hours. This means that the amount of electricity used in the Yampa Valley in 2012 was equivalent to leaving one 100-watt light bulb on for 5.25 billion hours. That’s a lot of juice, but it’s still less than half of 1 percent of the total power that was consumed across the U.S. in 2012.

The 2012 Yampa Valley electricity use level of 525 GWh represented an increase of 2.3 percent above the 2011 level of 513 GWh. This year, electricity use through July 2013 was 339 GWh. This represents an 8.5 percent increase over the electricity usage level between January and August 2012. Residential electricity use is driving most of the increase. Year-to-date residential electricity use is up 15.4 percent compared with 2012, whereas commercial use is up 3.3 percent and industrial use is up 5.7 percent.

Yampa Valley is a winter-peaking region because the largest amount of electricity is consumed during January and February to keep us warm and to power our ski resort. Electricity use tapers off in May and stays modest through October before it ramps back up in November. It turns out that based on this monthly pattern, 60 percent of annual electricity use typically is consumed by the end of July. Using this information, we can estimate that by the end of 2013, electricity use will reach 560 GWh. Electricity use for the rest of the year will depend heavily on the weather, but if this estimate holds, it will represent a 6.7 percent increase compared with 2012.

What’s noteworthy here is Yampa Valley electricity use increased during the past several years, and that growth rate recently has accelerated. Furthermore, the growth is driven largely by increases in residential electricity use, the largest electricity-consuming class and the group with the greatest seasonal variation. Beyond highlighting the increasingly critical role that electricity plays in our community, this data also provides a useful entry point for discussions about the future of electricity in the Yampa Valley.

Brandon Owens is an independent contractor for Yampa Valley Data Partners.

Yampa Valley electric use, 2007 to 2013


Harvey Lyon 3 years, 5 months ago

Hang onto your wallets folks. With the current government in charge, including Diane Mitsch Bush, their/her anti-coal, anti-nuclear, anti-hydro, anti-everything that can produce significant electricity at affordable rates prices are bound to raise significantly in the very near term.


John Fielding 3 years, 5 months ago

Hopefully the availability of single family residence sized co-generation units will increase. Even at this point having one custom built is becoming practical for heavy heating load areas. Using natural gas as a fuel source and having an electric heating component as well as intran or a fan coil unit assures that one will rarely have excess electricity to return to the grid. But if the utility policies for buying from small generators was improved that could be very favorable too. If one wanted to get really green, it is not terribly difficult to produce ones own methane or hydrogen (or alcohol) to supplement the pipeline supplied fuel.

An analysis performed for the Whiteman School several years ago indicated huge savings for them by generating their own electricity, but only if they could extend the natural gas line, currently terminated at the Soda Creek Bridge. (My efforts to get past that hurdle have not yet succeeded, it's a tough crossing). Generating from trucked in propane is not cost effective enough to pay for the equipment in a reasonable time.


Harvey Lyon 3 years, 5 months ago

John, You and lots and lots of people are thinking way small. You wish to "live off the grid" and that's fine if it makes you feel good and you have the roof space, land, etc. to do it. Lots of options when you're willing to pay 25 cents per kwh, about 3 times the cost currently.

The problem is, by far, most don't. And certainly not our high population areas. Raise the cost of power and more people become "poor"......period....a given.

The best minds in the power generation industries, those that went to MIT, Cal Poly, Harvard, etc. have advised Obama against his current policies. Not one power generation company (with all their experienced professional engineers) sided with Colorado's policies during this year's Congress. Yet these socioligists and non-engineers pressed on and voted with their hearts, their dreams, not their brains or research. Diane Mitsch Bush, and her party, are naifes.

We've changed to the new light bulbs, we've put in more efficient heaters, yet power consumption continues and will continue to go up. The hallmark of a great society is abundant plentiful power....period. With that you can do anything from the arts to clean water. And engineers are not bad people, it requires a lot of hard study and work to become one. But they are realists and they can get things done if folks support them.

And let me ask you a question. How many times have you lost power to your home this year as compared to recent years? Its my guess YVEA is spending money previously earmarked for maintanance and capital improvements for "green energy" in order to meet governmental requirements.

Any one in the trade will tell you we haven't done "jack" to increase the total available power generation or distribution in this Country for quite awhile. We've been busy building wind farms and solar farms, spitting into the wind so to speak. The dream of electric cars is based on power generation and distribution....the foundation. Yet all we hear is more regulations and the fact that nothing's getting built.....the Democratic Party solution....with DMB holding the torch.

The Democrats live in a dream world and listen to music from the 60's where everyone loves one another and storms don't happen.........until those things become a false, the water rises and the lights go out.

John, locally, look at the "surcharge" on your bill. It used to be a credit but hasn't for awhile. It will go up and up and up. Whiteman will not be the first business to go underwater due to the cost of utilities.


jerry carlton 3 years, 5 months ago

The dog poop generator will take us into the 22nd century. Dogs are outpacing human population growth. Ore ancestors burned buffalo chips. Why not dog poop?


John Fielding 3 years, 5 months ago

Hey Harvey, sorry if you got the wrong impression of my comment. I do not advocate getting off the grid. I want to contribute to it, send my surplus into it. I would still be on the pipeline grid for my fuel supply.

My point is that of the conservationist, if I can heat my home with "waste energy" from home electric generation, and save (fuel, money) by doing so then I want to. If I can help extent the natural gas pipeline to the Whiteman School and enable them to save a great deal of money over the cost of propane and grid electricity, that's a good thing.

It is easy to be more efficient in fuel use in electric generation if you can use the waste heat nearby. I'd love to see some rows of steam heated greenhouses next to the Hayden and Craig power plants instead of the columns of white rising from the cooling towers. Many homes in Steamboat were heated by the waste heat from the old generating plant that is now Centennial hall.

It's just common sense to me to be thrifty, nothing new here, just better technology.


Harvey Lyon 3 years, 5 months ago

I agree being efficient is a great a point. At a certain point it becomes less efficient to society as a whole to maximize efficiency in one area.

Take the new high efficiency boilers for hydronic heating. They squeeze about 97% of the available BTUs out of the natural gas. This is readily apparant when one can touch the vent line and it is barely warm. In fact, the exhaust is so cool that the water vapor in the exhaust, a product of combustion, actually condenses into water. And this water is slightly acidic in nature.

Quite a bit of water is produced actually and most has to be sent down the local sewer lines. Being acidic it must first be treated else it will eat any cast iron sewer pipes and valves.

It doesn't become a biggie until everyone's on high efficiency boilers.

Yes, we're maximizing the efficiency of converting natural gas into heat. But we're also doing damage to our utility systems which will require resources to maintain and repair.

Just an example.

I would guess that the modern power plants have maximized their heat capture efficiencies as much as they can while still maintaining the thermodynamic cycle. Likewise, being investor owned, if there was a way to profit on the little waste heat being produced they would be selling it. But I truly don't know.

Personally I'd like to see a huge solar powered CO2 reclamation plant built in the SW. That's my pipe dream...LOL. But right now the technology isn't there. But imagine if we could caputure CO2 somewhere via solar energy and allow fossil fuel CO2 production elsewhere for a net zero addition to the atmosphere.

I'd like to see the Federal Government pushing for this and sponsoring that type of research as opposed to the increased regulations, stagnate power generation and distribution policies and jawboning going on now.


John Fielding 3 years, 5 months ago

Most of the water vapor from my 97% boiler freezes and falls as snow in my yard on cold days. In the summer it does not condense, blows away with the CO2.

How about an algae plant for CO2 recapture? The biological processes are well proven, just look at all the methane in shale. Perhaps the product could be fermented and the byproducts be used for fuel and feed.


John Fielding 3 years, 5 months ago

Hi this is John Fielding's son Justin Shirley. In my house some times the lights get left on. When lights get turned on and left on for no reason it is like throwing money in the trash. I usually turn you lights off in my house some times my dad does so with my mom rarely my brother. But i don't think that turning off the lights is a chore i think of it as a responsibility.


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