Ashland's electricity use per person has dropped slightly since 1982, even as average electricity use has jumped significantly in Oregon and the United States.

Ashland has maintained almost flat electricity use per person despite residents buying more computers, televisions, microwaves, air conditioners and other electronics and appliances.

"We've been able to add those things to people's homes and absorb the load growth through efficiency and conservation," Ashland Electric Department Director Dick Wanderscheid said.

In 1982, annual per person use of electricity in Ashland was 8,483 kilowatts. It has had minor dips and increases since then, with a nudge down to 8,324 kwh in 2006, the most recent year when a full year's worth of data was available from the Bonneville Power Administration and the Energy Information Agency.

Meanwhile, Oregon's per person electricity use rose from 9,426 kWh in 1982 to 13,023 kwh in 2006. The American average increased from 6,984 kwh per person in 1982 to 12,268 kwh per person in 2006.

BPA Energy Efficiency Group Public Utilities Specialist Ottie Nabors said he's not surprised that electricity use has risen in Oregon and the United States. As personal incomes increased, people bought more energy-consuming products. Additionally, many people leave electronic entertainment systems and computers plugged in when not in use, even though those continue to draw electricity when turned off.

In the commercial sector, automation and widespread use of computers boosted electricity use, Nabors said.

Bucking the trend

A variety of factors explain why Ashland's electric use is lower than the Oregon and U.S. averages.

With a focus on retail and light industry rather than heavy industry, the town has no electric sales that the Energy Information Agency categorizes as industrial.

Wanderscheid said Ashland's light industrial businesses generally assemble products out of parts manufactured elsewhere.

Oregon used 3,520 kwh per person for industrial use in 2006, and the United States as a whole used 3,354 kwh.

But Ashland still has lower electricity use than Oregon and the United States when only residential and commercial electricity is examined. Ashland used 8,324 kwh per person for home and light business use in 2006, compared to 9,498 kwh for Oregon and 8,887 kwh for America.

More use of natural gas for heating, conservation because of new Oregon construction codes, more efficient home appliances and an active conservation program could help explain the lower residential and business use in Ashland, said Nabors.

But the impact of natural gas use, state construction codes and efficient appliances affect all of Oregon, Wanderscheid said.

He said an aggressive conservation program in place in Ashland for 25 years has helped the town beat Oregon and United States electricity use averages and keep per person consumption flat.

The Ashland Conservation Division has weatherized hundreds of homes, promoted energy efficient new home construction, offered rebates on solar systems, retrofitted lighting systems, installed new heat pumps and helped residents and business owners make many other improvements, Wanderscheid said.

Room for improvement?

Like the Ashland Water Department, the Electric Department is in an unusual situation in that by promoting conservation, it lowers its own revenues.

But Wanderscheid said every Ashland City Council he has seen has supported conservation programs rather than worrying about a loss of revenues.

The current City Council set a goal in 2007 to increase the effectiveness of the city's conservation programs. The council was scheduled to discuss that goal with Wanderscheid during a study session on March 17, but the discussion has been postponed so the council can discuss proposed land use rule changes that day.

"Our programs are pretty effective right now compared to what's going on in the region," he said.

Boosting conservation efforts would probably mean the City Council would have to designate more money for conservation staff and programs, Wanderscheid said.

Councilor Eric Navickas said the city, including the volunteers who sit on the Ashland Conservation Commission, should be commended, but he believes Ashland can go further.

One possibility could be creating tiers in electric rates, so that heavier users pay more, he said.

Keeping a tight lid on electricity use will become even more important to city &

and electricity customer &

finances in the next few years.

In 2011, BPA is going to a different system in which utilities will get a fixed share of cheap federal hydropower. Utilities will have to buy more expensive electricity from other sources in order to meet growth in demand, Wanderscheid said.

"It makes energy efficiency and renewables a lot more important," he said.

For conservation tips and information about free home energy efficiency tests as well as city financial incentives for residents and businesses, call the Conservation Division at 488-5306 or visit /Page.asp?NavID=1366.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit .