California is bracing itself for more devastating blackouts this summer and energy prices in the northwest continues to soar. Forecasts suggest that the region’s hydro plants must contend with the second lowest volume of water for 72 years. When the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) finished signing up all its customers during the power subscription process in 2000, it found itself on average 3000MW short of the energy it needed to meet the load required.

Five years ago, when BPA’s power costs were comparatively high, it lost some of its customers to low-price competition. Now that the market has changed, and many of the utilities that left at this time are returning, BPA is required by law to serve them.

In the power crisis, BPA has challenged individuals and businesses in the region to reduce their energy consumption from 250% to under 100%. The challenge is not unrealistic. Between 1980 and 2000, the agency and its utility partners used conservation to save 780MW – enough power to supply the city of Portland for a year.

In December 2000, BPA joined with the governors of Oregon and Washington to urge conservation and load reduction in homes and businesses. The agency also ran advertisements in 17 newspapers throughout the Northwest that gave information on how homeowners and companies could save money and energy while saving water for fish and future generations’ needs. The appeals were successful. On 11 December, during the winter’s first energy emergency, citizens and businesses reduced the region’s peak load by 825MW/h during the evening.

Alongside this publicity, BPA is providing financial incentives to get local utilities and industries to reduce energy consumption. Most of these incentives are targeted at large industries but some programmes are designed for utilities to deliver to individuals and small businesses.

Home conservation has the advantage of saving the consumer money. BPA has launched a coupon redemption scheme to encourage the use of compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Customers will receive coupons worth $6 of the cost of the lightbulbs.

The VendingMi$er is another tool. Control units will be attached to many of the region’s vending machines. The Vending$Miser plugs into an electrical outlet and the vending machine plugs into it. The device powers down all electrical components of the machine during the nights and weekends when it will not be used, although BPA says that refrigeration will not be impaired in cold drinks machines. A motion sensor mounted above the machine detects when people approach and turns the machine back on. BPA expects the region to be able to reduce its use of electricity by an average of 15MW through the programme. Units will be offered to bottlers through local utilities.