Chances are, if you live on the grid in the central Kenai Peninsula area, you’re reliant on natural gas in one way or another.
About 85 to 90 percent of Homer Electric Association’s electricity is produced with natural gas, and many homes are heated with the same fuel.
Utilities and local governments are trying to prepare people for what might happen if declining production coincides with a cold spell at just the wrong time and there isn’t enough natural gas to go around.
But representatives caution that a shortage is not imminent.
“We are very confident that the power requirements will be met,” said Joe Gallagher, a spokesman for Homer Electric Association.
Homer Electric Association, Enstar and the Kenai Peninsula Borough are three of the organizations involved in the Energy Watch campaign.
Enstar representative John Sims said his company’s job is to provide customers with natural gas. The company doesn’t plan to run out.
“Do we think that it’s likely? No, we don’t,” Sims said.
But Enstar, HEA and others want to make sure people know what to do if there is a problem.
Gallagher said power interruptions would be a last resort if there is a shortage. Utilities have a number of options they can explore first, including increasing hydropower production.
Natural gas suppliers also have options for increasing the supply.
Sims said that new suppliers providing natural gas on a nonfirm basis could help mitigate the issue. Enstar has contracts pending with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to buy natural gas from three local producers on a nonfirm basis. Those are Buccaneer Energy, Cook Inlet Energy and Aurora Gas. If those are approved, Enstar will have eight suppliers participating in the nonfirm bidding process.
“It definitely helps adding players to our portfolio,” Sims said.
Because they’re part of the nonfirm bidding, none of the suppliers is required to provide natural gas if there’s a shortage. They just have an option to participate in the bidding.
Consumers may also be asked to make changes, such as turning down the thermostat and turning off unused lights and electronics.
Energy Watch will provide residents with information about the risk for a shortage throughout the winter. When consumers have a green light, it means consume energy regularly. A yellow level means turning down the thermostat and some reduction, and red calls for greater reductions in energy use.
As part of the Energy Watch campaign, residents in each of the participating areas — the Kenai and Matanuska-Susitna boroughs and the Municipality of Anchorage — are asked to participate in a conservation exercise Oct. 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. Gallagher said that during the exercise, customers are asked to make about a yellow level reduction in use.
“We are asking people to voluntarily take the following actions: lower thermostat to 65 degrees in the house and 40 degrees in the garage, lower the water heater to “warm” or “vacation” setting, minimize use of natural gas range, postpone doing laundry and dishes, and turn off unnecessary lights and electronics in the house,” Gallagher said in an email.
The goal is to see how much electricity and natural gas can be conserved if residents make a concious effort, and to practice for a shortage.
Gallagher said this is the third year an Energy Watch exercise has been held. The last two years have shown about a two to four percent reduction in demand during the test period, he said.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.