Data Sense: Yampa Valley electricity use surges ahead

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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

Comments

John Fielding 3 years, 6 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.

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jerry carlton 3 years, 6 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?

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John Fielding 3 years, 6 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.

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John Fielding 3 years, 6 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.

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John Fielding 3 years, 6 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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