While a shortage or significant drop in the delivery pressure of natural gas during the winter months may not be probable, that doesn't mean it's not possible, and regional governments and utility companies are making plans to deal with it.
Late last month, the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna areas took part in an Energy Watch Conservation Drill, in an attempt to measure the impact of citizens' actions to reduce their energy use during the winter.
"From HEA's perspective, the test was pretty successful," said Joe Gallagher, spokesperson for Homer Electric Association.
Citizens were asked to reduce energy use for a two-hour period by turning down thermostats, postponing laundry and dishes, lowering the water heater to a "warm" setting, minimizing use of gas ranges, and turning off unnecessary lights and electronics.
Officials recorded a load reduction of 2 to 4 percent during the drill. Gallagher said the Kenai Peninsula's reduction percentage was slightly higher than some other areas.
"We had the test on Wednesday (Oct. 21) and compared it to the previous evening and the following evening," he said. "We saw a 6.5 percent reduction from Tuesday, and it was 4.8 percent less than on Thursday, the day after the test."
Gallagher said the success of the drill should also be weighed against the time of year it occurred, since a drill with similar citizen compliance later in the winter would likely have yielded even larger reduction.
"It wasn't very cold," he said. "If it had been a cold night in the middle of winter and the same conservation steps were taken by people, the energy reduction would have been even greater."
In a real situation the energy providers would be looking for conservation steps in the Southcentral region that would reduce energy use by 15 percent.
"That is what would be needed to be successful at preventing a rolling blackout," he said.
If the combination of system operations and voluntary customer actions fail to cut enough demand, planned power outages could be a last resort, according to Gallagher.
If it became necessary to interrupt service, planned outages would be 20-30 minutes long and rotated among customers, with consideration for critical facilities, he said.
Gallagher attributed the success of this first drill to a strong education campaign through the Kenai Peninsula Borough's Office of Emergency Management, and citizen cooperation during it.
Gallagher said more energy watch drills could be scheduled in the future, though no dates have been set yet.
For more information on the Energy Watch Program, visit HEA's Web site at www.homerelectric.com and click on the Energy Watch link.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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