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

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