Energy Savings Blog

How Clean and Green is the Electricity that OPALCO Delivers?

Friday, August 17th, 2012

OPALCO is contracted with Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to secure the lowest cost, most reliable power for our member owners. Each year, BPA reports on the fuel mix—the various sources of electrical generation—that were delivered to us for distribution. The 2011 fuel mix report shows that our fuel mix was 97% greenhouse-gas free with more than 90% of our power being generated by clean and green hydro-electric turbines. Greenhouse gases are those that absorb and emit radiation within the thermal infrared range. The process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect, which contributes to global warming.

The components of the fuel mix vary from year (see this year’s detailed report) due to the availability of wind power and Columbia Generating Station (nuclear energy), which shuts down every two years for refueling and routine maintenance. Additionally, from time to time BPA requests Columbia Generating Station reduce power due to current or expected high water levels in the federal hydroelectric system.

The other components of the fuel mix represent less than 3% of the total generation and include (in order of prevalence): coal, natural gas, biomass, waste, petroleum, landfill gases, solar, co-generation, geo-thermal and other.

What about all the member-owned renewable energy (MORE) generated locally by OPALCO members? There are more than 80 members who generate their own power and are interconnected to OPALCO’s grid. The total kWh annual production is over 200,000 kWh compared to the total co-op annual consumption of about 200,000,000 kWh. However, with the promise of higher rates tied to load growth in the near future, everything we can do as a co-op to reduce our load—every kWh we can avoid using through efficiency and conservation or that we generate ourselves—will help us to shape our own energy future.

What will you do to be more efficient and avoid kWh use in your home or business?


Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

How many people have heard the term “negawatt”?

Not yet in the Webster’s dictionary, here is the definition from Wikipedia:

A negawatt is a theoretical unit of power representing an amount of energy saved as a direct result of energy conservation or increased efficiency. The concept of a negawatt is simply a measure of power that is not used.

Enter local company, Negawatt Media.   Negawatt Media creates easily digestible, simple, upbeat outreach materials that educate electricity consumers about emerging changes regarding electricity. And they live here, on Orcas Island!  OPALCO contracted with Negawatt Media to produce an animated white board video that delivers our message of energy efficiency and conservation in a fun and engaging way.

View the video here:

Let us know your thoughts by sending your review of the video to:

Check out Negawatt Media here:

Vote for Energy Efficiency

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

OPALCO’s 75th Annual Meeting on the ferry is coming up on Saturday, May 5th. Ballots have arrived in each members’ mailbox and absentee ballots are due by May 4th – an option for online voting is new this year. Why should you participate? As Co-op member-owners, you have the power to elect the Board of Directors who are responsible for policy making – including what kind of programming and budget are committed to energy efficiency and conservation. In a co-op, it’s one member: one vote. Your voice counts. Please take a moment to read about the candidates and exercise your power to vote. The Annual Meeting will be a special affair this year in celebration of OPALCO’s 75th Anniversary. Hope you’ll join us. In any case, check out the historical timeline, annual report and galleries of stories, photos and videos online at Have an OPALCO story or photos of your own to share? Post them on our new Facebook page (Orcas Power & Light Cooperative) – and be sure to tell your friends!


Friday, April 6th, 2012

Continuing the theme of WIND POWER, one of our members sent in this link to an amazing new art project that shows, in real-time, the surface wind speeds over all of the United States.  Surface wind data comes from the National Digital Forecast Database.  You can zoom in on the map to see more detail.

Follow this link to the project


Friday, March 16th, 2012

Since the first WIND POWER blog two weeks ago, we have received over 20 phone calls and in person questions about these two systems. It is true that wind power is on the minds of local islanders!

Here is a summary of the questions we have received and answers we compiled:

For ease, Turbine 1 is the tall turbine system on Lopez and Turbine 2 is the round turbine system on Orcas.

Q. What are the sizes in kW of the wind turbines?
A. Turbine 1 is 10 kW and Turbine 2 is 2.5 kW

Q. How much energy per year will the turbines produce?
A. Turbine 1 is estimated to produce 12,000kWh per year.  Turbine 2 is estimated to produce 3,000kWh per year. Our average member uses approximately 800 kWh per month.

Q. How were these turbines permitted?
A. Turbine 1 was very costly and time consuming to permit because of its height at 120 feet. It was the first of its kind to go through the San Juan County permitting process and actually helped pave the way for future wind systems. Turbine 2 was much simpler to permit as the height is only 35 feet.

Q. What is the name of the company that manufactures these turbines and how much do they cost?
A. Turbine 1 is manufactured by Xzeres ( We do not have cost data on these particular systems but a wind turbine of this type and height could be in the neighborhood of $100k. Turbine 2 is manufactured by Home Energy America ( One of these turbines would be in the neighborhood of $20k.

Q. What other resources are at these properties?
A. The Turbine 1 property also as solar PV. The Turbine 2 property has a geothermal heat pump and is planning to add solar PV.

Please direct your additional questions about these wind systems or any renewable energy systems to the OPALCO Energy Services Department at 376-3571 or

Turbine 2

Turbine 1


Friday, March 2nd, 2012

it is an exciting time for small scale wind power in San Juan County. Two very different wind turbine systems have recently connected to the OPALCO grid.  The first is the somewhat traditional looking 120’ turbine on Lopez manufactured by Xzeres. This 10kW system is expected to produce over 12,000 kWh per year. The second installation is the two turbine, futuristic looking Earth Ball system on Orcas.  These turbines are manufactured by Home Energy America and are rated at 2.5kW each. The expected yearly output for each Earth Ball is 3000kWh.

Both owner-members have signed up for the MORE (Member Owned Renewable Energy) program and will be receiving a production incentive funded by the voluntary contributions of other Co-op members who support local renewable energy generation.  If you want to support the MORE program, check the box on your paper bill or call in to let us know at 376-3500.

The OPALCO Energy Services staff will be monitoring these new wind systems along with their owners for performance numbers. We will report back in six months with the data.


Thursday, February 9th, 2012

From Unlike standard car batteries, lithium-ion batteries used to power EVs have a lot of life left in them after they’re retired from service in a vehicle. Automation technology group ABB, Nissan North America, 4R Energy and Sumitomo Corporation of America have teamed up to evaluate and test the all-electric Nissan Leaf battery for residential and commercial use as energy storage systems.

Lithium-ion batteries have up to 70% of their capacity remaining after 10 years of service as a car battery. The partners plan to create a Leaf battery storage prototype capable of providing at least 50 kilowatt hours of power, the amount needed to keep the lights on in 15 average homes for two hours.

read the rest of the story:

Ahhhhhhh!!!!!! How did I use so much electricity last month?

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Why did I use more than last year at this time? Hasn’t it been warmer this year?

These are questions we get a lot this time of year.  Often, after some investigation, we find the answers together.

For example: to answer “Why did I use more than last year at this time? Hasn’t it been warmer this year?

Guess what? This past December hasn’t been warmer than last year.  We think it has, myself included, but here are the average December temperatures for the last three years:

Dec 2009   37 deg
Dec 2010   43 deg
Dec 2011   40 deg

Here’s another example:  “How did I use so much electricity last month?”
Check out the blog post from December 14th.  ( IT’S ALL ABOUT HEATING NOW ) If you heat with electricity, like I do, your bill has gone up 3 or 4 times since the summer.   That’s how it is if I don’t want to wear a parka indoors!

What are some other culprits that cause our homes to use more electricity this time of year?
1. Not using window coverings. Windows are like holes in the wall.  If you cover them, less of the heat ($$) from the room will go out the window.
2. Attic access doors which are not sealed and insulated. Heat ($$) rises right out the roof if you let it.
3. Emergency heat strip settings on thermostats. Did it accidently get left on? You should never put your heat pump in that mode unless your heat pump is not keeping the house warm. Heat strips will consume about 3 times as much electricity as the heat pump alone. This is different than the auxiliary heat mode which comes on usually when the temperature falls below 35 deg.
4. Close the fireplace damper tightly when you are not using it. It’s just like an open window!
5. Lighting. It’s dark outside and our lights are on longer. Did you know CFL bulbs  use one quarter the energy of incandescent bulbs but provide the same amount of light?
6. Hot Tubs. No explanation needed.

Always remember we are here for you. Now that OPALCO has completed the rollout of digital Automated Meter Reading meters, our Member Services team can review your daily consumption trends with you to try to pinpoint your heating and other high consumption sources. Also, reads can now be pulled just a few days before billing.  This means billing periods may not be consistent year over year for comparison.  Always remember to pay close attention to the reading dates and “Days Served” on your bill when comparing historical consumption.  See Understanding Your OPALCO Bill for a visual explanation of you bill.

Our Energy Services Department can help you with a more in depth investigation of your home. Consider a Home Snap Shot Energy Assessment by one of our Building Performance contractors.


Electric Vehicles: the “electric highway” and end of tax credits

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

As seen in the Seattle Times this weekend: The first fast-charging station in the Washington’s “Electric Highway” is being installed at the Sehome Village Shopping Center in Bellingham. Also – a tax credit that allowed Americans to deduct 30 percent of the cost of electric car chargers installed in their garages has expired. Read the full articles

While You Were Enjoying the Holidays –

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Congress decided to temporarily halt the enforcement of new light bulb efficiency standards. Here is one article on the subject from Electric Co-op Today.  What does this mean for you?  You will still be able to buy a 100 watt incandescent light bulb in 2012, but why would you?