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Hot summer causes spike in electric and water usage

Monday, October 8, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The average temperature was not the only thing on the rise this summer.

Electricity and water consumption increased significantly from May through August compared to previous years, according to data collected by Columbia Water and Light.

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In July, the city used almost 9 million more kilowatt hours than it used in the previous year. Customers used an average of 1,245 kilowatt hours in July 2012 compared to 1,032 kilowatt hours in July 2011.

"Average use was way up from previous years," Connie Kacprowicz, spokeswoman for Columbia Water and Light, said. She attributed the increased demand for water and electricity to the heat and the drought.

"Water and electricity utilities are very weather dependent," she said. "Extreme heat puts a lot of stress on the infrastructure." 

The increased demand for electricity was driven by air conditioning, while the spike in water usage was the result of homes and businesses watering their lawns, she said. 

Tom O'Connor, a member of the Water and Light Advisory Board, said the city's utilities "held up without a glitch." 

The main problem the city faced was water main breaks, O'Connor said. The increased number of breaks was caused by the ground shifting, which was due to the extended period of drought. 

"We had more breaks than normal, but we got them fixed," O'Connor said.

Kacprowicz said the city's electricity services experienced some transformer blowouts, but all things considered, the system held up pretty well. 

While electricity use increased, the city was able to redistribute the load to keep loads demand in check during times of peak use.

"Energy usage was way up," Kacprowicz said. "But the peak electricity load didn't increase from last year."

Kacprowicz attributed the stability of peak electricity use to a load management program that allows the city to rotate when air conditioners kick on and incentives for businesses in Columbia to curtail electricity use during peak hours.

"It makes a big difference on those hot summer afternoons," she said, referring to the time of day when electricity use peaks.

The city had an adequate supply of both electricity and water to meet the high summer demand, Kacprowicz said. 

The city's electricity supply comes from a variety of sources, which are explained in the Columbia Water and Light integrated resource plan. The city also supplements the electric grid with power bought off the electric wholesale market, meaning the city can buy electricity to meet increased demand.

The city's water supply — which can pump up to 30 million gallons of water per day — met the city's water needs this summer, Kacprowicz said.

But if demand keeps rising the city will either have to drill a few more wells and expand the city's water treatment facility or find a way to reduce the amount of water being used, she said.

"These are decisions that will have to be made," Kacprowicz said. 

O'Connor said he is "always an advocate of conservation and efficiency," and he believes solutions are needed to reduce demand before the city increases supply. 

"I expect this tug of war between conservation and supply will continue," O'Connor said.


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