Over the last 10 years, the average amount of electricity used in Colorado has risen steadily. In 1990, one household used 538 kilowatts per month. That number grew to 602 kilowatts in 2000. Colorado's power demand mirrors the national trend, which has also gone up significantly.
However, the Yampa Valley, over an even longer period, has seen a drop in average power usage.
"Demand has dropped slightly since 1982, from 860 kilowatt hours to 803 in 2001," said Jim Chappell, manager of consumer accounts for Yampa Valley Electric Association (YVEA). "Residential farms use more electricity than residences. Farms use welders, pump systems and machinery. We've seen an increase in residential users, which has brought the average use down.
Chappell also attributed the decline to electric heating systems being replaced by natural gas systems, a trend that started in the early 80s.
The interest in electric heating has started to rebound somewhat, Chappell said, because of the recent gas price hikes.
"Another factor is efficiency is getting better. For example, refrigerators built today use about one-third of a refrigerator in the 70s," he said. "Light bulbs are more efficient now too. And Yampa Valley Electric has made an effort to educate people to use the product wisely. We've done a good job of helping people use electricity efficiently."
The YVEA doesn't foresee any shortages, as the peak season in Northwest Colorado is the opposite of the national peak. The area serviced by the YVEA is one where usage peaks in the winter, where the demand for power nationally peaks during the summer.
Thought Colorado use generally peaks during the summer, the outlook for the state is strong.
"I don't think Colorado will be seeing any shortages in the near future," said Jim VanSomeran, communications manager for Tri-State Generation and Transmission. "Certainly over the last several years, our energy demands have increased year by year. We've been involved in a coordinated effort with other utilities in the state to stay current, and have the capacity to handle projected growth."
The focus of most utilities is demand from the Front Range, and construction and infrastructure plans reflect that. Gas-fired turbines have been constructed in Lymon and Brighton, and Tri-State has announced plans to build a power plant in Las Animas.
"We are looking to build power generation closer to where it is needed. This helps counteract the potentially huge cost of transmission construction," VanSomeran said. "The Front Range is more of a priority right now because of the demand for power there."
Building a fourth station at the Craig power plant is not feasible now because the transmission lines that transfer power to the eastern part of the state don't exist, and building them would be prohibitively expensive.
Because Tri-State Generation and Transmission operates under a cooperative-funding structure, the demand for energy is not an opportunity for bigger profits, VanSomeran said. Tri-State is a not-for-profit system, as opposed to an investor-run utility like Excel, or a municipal system.