Yule lights OK, but you’ll pay

Associated Press

SPOKANE — It’s okay to turn those Christmas lights back on, so long as you don’t mind paying the price.

Energy experts on Tuesday lifted their warning about possible electrical blackouts in the Northwest. Rising temperatures and voluntary conservation measures, they say, prevented any disasters.

"It’s still cold, but not to the point where there is even the threat of an emergency," said John Harrison, spokesman for the Northwest Power Planning Council.

At Tuesday’s Snohomish County PUD meeting, board members said that while the immediate urgency may have eased, the impact will be felt for a long time. And it’s expected to be felt when wallets are lightened in January by a proposed rate hike or surcharge.

Residents of Washington were asked earlier this week to reduce their electrical use, especially on frills such as Christmas lights. But forecasts for subzero temperatures never materialized.

Tuesday’s temperatures reached the 30s in much of Western Washington, and in the teens and 20s in Eastern Washington. The forecast was for a slight warming trend, with nighttime lows in the 20s and 30s in Western Washington and in the teens and single digits east of the Cascades.

An emergency response team of utilities and government officials met Tuesday morning and decided to lift its warning. But that doesn’t mean people should binge on electricity, Harrison said.

"Christmas lights are not a problem. Go ahead and use them," Harrison said. "But don’t go out and burn all the bulbs you have in your house."

The West Coast is short on power because of rising demand at the same time that low rain and snowfall have crimped the production of hydropower. Wholesale electricity prices are skyrocketing, causing some factories to close. Kaiser Aluminum has found it more profitable to sell its allocation of electricity rather than to use it to make aluminum.

Winter hasn’t even arrived, and the long-term forecast is for continued cold and dry weather, Harrison said. That means the Northwest still faces the prospects of power shortages, he said.

Dana Middleton, spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Locke, said it was "virtually guaranteed" that more alerts will be necessary in January and February, the coldest months of the year. Middleton said Californians have become used to energy shortages during the past year.

"The people in Washington state might have to get used to this, too," she said.

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