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Heat wave fans power demand

By Staff
Consumers asked to decrease their use of electricity
By DAN PARSONS
Staff Writer
As temperatures go up, so does the demand on electric power.
The heat wave gripping North Carolina and the Southeast has inspired many residents to increase the use of their air conditioners, which in turn has increased the demand for electricity across the state. As a result, North Carolina’s electric cooperatives — which serve 2.5 million people in 93 counties — and other power providers are asking customers to conserve power during the heat.
In her 15-year career with Tideland Electrical Membership Corporation, Heidi Smith, director of public affairs, said she could remember the cooperative implementing voluntary conservation only a handful of times. The latest heat wave caused Tideland EMC to hit an all-time high for power demand on its system Wednesday. The first time since January 2006 a new peak was reached, Smith said.
Jane Pritchard, a spokeswoman for North Carolina Electric Cooperatives, said Wednesday that conservation is needed, but that consumers should know there is no shortage of electricity.
Telephone calls made to Washington Electric Utilities on Wednesday were not returned.
At 2 p.m. Wednesday, the temperature at Warren Field Airport was recorded at 99 degrees, with a heat index of 122 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. The hot and humid conditions are expected to continue today, with heat-index values reaching between 110 and 115 degrees this afternoon, according to the National Weather Service office in Newport. Temperatures are projected to cool slightly this weekend.
Pritchard said the cooperatives anticipated hitting a record peak of electricity demand Wednesday and to match or exceed that peak today. The last record peak was caused by cold weather on Jan. 19, 2005, according to Pritchard.
The Associated Press reported Progress Energy also expected a record-breaking day for demand and asked its 1.2 million North Carolina customers to reduce consumption to help ease the strain, said company spokeswoman Tanya Evans. Progress Energy set its previous record in July 2005.
Duke Energy did not ask customers for conservation, but suggested that people monitor their usage, according to the AP report. Spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said the company would not know until Thursday if it had hit record usage but said the Charlotte-based utility neared its July 2005 usage record Tuesday.
Gov. Mike Easley also sought energy conservation by ordering state agencies to adjust thermostats to between 78 degrees and 80 degrees, the AP reported.
With demand for electricity at an all-time high across the state, Pritchard offered some ways consumers may limit the burden on electricity generators during the heat wave. The cooperatives are encouraging customers to turn off unnecessary lights, limit the use of TVs and personal computers and to postpone the use of dishwashers, washing machines and dryers until the heat subsides. Also, until the weather cools, customers are asked to turn off air conditioners or raise thermostats to the highest comfortable setting.
An excessive heat warning is in effect for 18 of the state’s coastal counties, including Washington, Hyde, Martin and Washington counties, according to the National Weather Service’s Web site.
High heat and humidity have been accompanied by drought conditions in much of the state, but Beaufort County’s supply of water is not in danger, according to Rodney Woolard, spokesman for Beaufort County Soil and Water Conservation.