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With two large hydroelectric projects, Sitka appears to have plenty of electricity. But Kerry MacLane, who sits on the Sitka Climate Action Plan task force, says 80-percent of the energy consumed in the community comes from fossil fuels.
“And of that 80-percent, half goes to heating our houses with Monitor stoves, and the other half to powering our fleet: the cars that we drive and the boats that we drive. And by in large, though we think of ourselves as a clean town with hydro power, the vast majority of our energy comes from oil.”
That has not been a bad lifestyle for Sitka to date, but there are two forces at work that could shift Sitka’s 80/20 formula. The Sitka Assembly in June adopted a climate action plan that calls for a reduction in government-produced carbon emissions of 25-percent by 2020. The second is the price of oil.
Lindsey Schiller is Sitka’s “conservation intern” this summer. She has a B.A. in International and Environmental Studies from the University of Wisconsin. She says there is a direct link between economics and conservation.
“So hydro is really cheap. The fuel source is essentially the rain, and it’s free. Diesel, in contrast, is really expensive. It costs five to six times more to produce the same amount of electricity with diesel than with hydro.”
Schiller says rising fuel prices have been the main factor in the growth of electrical demand in Sitka. Residents are turning to electric heat because it’s cheaper now than oil. The city’s climate action plan calls for saving 1,000 tons of carbon emissions, mostly by converting to electricity. The problem? Sitka doesn’t have enough hydro to cover the combined demand.
Kerry Maclane says if Sitka has to supplement its hydro plants with diesel generators to make ends meet, the city’s climate plan doesn’t add up.
“Because of the fact that demand exceeds supply, we’re going to save that thousand tons by burning diesel to create fifty-thousand tons of carbon.”
Although the Electric Department is moving ahead with plans to raise the Blue Lake dam and add a third turbine, that project won’t come online until 2015. If the growth in Sitka’s electrical demand continues along present trends, the city could end up burning around $20,000 per day in diesel fuel, with consumers footing the bill.
Lindsey Schiller says the objective of her internship is to make Sitkans more “conservation conscientious.” She believes the community could avoid using diesel electricity mainly “by doing the small stuff.”
“Turning off the lights and weatherizing your home can really go a long way for the city. What’s cool about it is that it doesn’t just save the city money and help the environment, it really helps people’s bottom line. There’s no cheaper energy than the energy you don’t have to use.”
Schiller has created a website to provide information on Sitka’s hydroelectric system, and consolidate information on the steps residents can take to conserve power. She has supplied a couple of devices which are available for checkout at the library: One allows users to measure the electric consumption of any appliance, including the phantom power loads of electronics like computers, which draw power even when they are turned off; another sounds like actual fun.
“It’s called a thermal leak detector. It looks like sort of a Star Wars style ray gun. It senses the temperature changes on a surface. So you point it at a wall and it shows a light. As you move it across a wall with a possible temperature change, the light will change if there is a heat loss.”
Shiller says most people use the leak detector inside their homes to find cold spots, and then do simple weatherization measures.
Her website is called sitkaenergy.org.
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