By Ashleigh Strange and Teri Anderson
Except for 1992 and this May, Fairbanks energy consumption usually drops in the spring. People begin to turn off their heaters and the Golden Valley Electric Association shuts down one of their coal-fired power plants in Healy for scheduled maintenance. During maintenance, GVEA temporarily replaces their coal-fired power plant with an oil-fired plant. Since burning oil costs so much more than burning coal, GVEA asks Fairbanks residents to conserve electricity until the coal-fired plant returns to service next week.
“Everybody is able to conserve to a certain extent,” said GVEA Vice President of Marketing and Member Services, Dave Gardner, “there’s always something people could do but for that there’s always a trade-off in convenience and everybody knows electricity is very convenient.”
Because of the “winter that won’t end,” people haven’t turned off their heaters or decreased their electricity consumption this spring. Nevertheless, GVEA continues its scheduled maintenance even with the higher cost of operating an oil-fired plant during the third-coldest Fairbanks spring on record.
GVEA shuts down a power plant for maintenance every 18 months during the spring and fall.
“If we were going to do the maintenance during the summer, that would mean 18 months later would be the middle of winter and that’s the worst time we would want to take any of our facilities down,” said Gardner. “We would like to have 100 percent capability of all of our generating plants because if one should break due to an unexpected malfunction we would have others to back it up.”
To reduce energy consumption during a cold spring like this, UAF Director of Sustainability Michelle Hébert said turning off lights will make the most significant impact on conserving electricity.
“Evaluate where you are and what you can turn off and what you need to have on and be sure whenever you’re leaving a room to shut everything off and it’s amazing how quickly you can save energy.”
A surge protector outlet makes electricity conservation easy because flipping the one switch when leaving a room will turn everything off at once.
GVEA will return to a majority of coal-fired power on May 6.