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Imperial Irrigation District Division 2 Director JB Hamby

GUEST COLUMN: The Price of Unpreparedness

In the summer of 2020, extreme heat and soaring demands for electricity combined with insufficient power supplies left California with rolling blackouts across the state.

On a record-setting 121-degree afternoon on Sept. 5, 2020, IID was affected by this statewide phenomenon when power expected for delivery from outside the IID service area never came through. This meant that IID was unexpectedly left without the energy necessary to serve all of its customer needs. As an emergency measure, areas were taken offline to balance limited supply with heightened demand to avoid a snowball effect of regional rolling outages.

Three months later, when I was seated on the IID Board in December and assumed the role of vice president in January, it was a clear priority that IID customers were not left without the power needed for summer 2021.

The 2021 Summer Energy Readiness Plan was an effort that began in balmy January to ensure IID was more than adequately prepared for an expectedly blistering summer.

As we began the process, it became clear that the energy sector was in flux. Reliable traditional energy supplies were going offline. Heatwaves and climate change were causing demands to spike. Energy agencies and utilities across the state, having been taken to account by the public for the extreme rolling blackouts of the prior summer, had feverishly worked to sop up limited supply to secure their positions leaving fewer sources of available energy on the market at far higher prices.

Quite frankly, I was myself concerned about what summer 2021 might look like and whether our efforts were too little and too late. But our goal was clear, customers lacking the power they needed in the summer was not an option. We had to pull out all the stops to ensure lights — and air conditioners — ran all summer long without interruption.

In order to achieve this goal, IID sought to maintain reliability while avoiding high costs in procuring energy supplies — a difficult balancing act compounded by limited availability to begin with.

This limited availability also encouraged a robust demand management program that included outreach to some of IID’s largest energy customers to shift their use to off-peak hours, the Conserve Alert energy conservation campaign, and incentives for power users to limit demands when called upon.

By mid-spring this year, IID had completed the 2021 Summer Energy Readiness Plan with a broad-based approach that has protected IID customers from load-shedding events even with unprecedented demands on the system.

Just last week on Aug. 4, IID reached its all-time record for peak electricity demand by IID customers at 1,133 megawatts. Despite this historic demand in a time of tightened supply, the 2021 Summer Energy Plan prepared us well to serve all of IID’s customers all summer long without interruption to date.

But this feat did not come easily — nor cheaply. Had it been a priority of the prior IID board to prepare for summer 2021, costs would have been dramatically lower and your summer bills would have looked very different than they do this month.

Summer energy costs are only partially covered in IID’s low, flat base rate in your monthly power bill. Cost fluctuations are covered in a separate Energy Cost Adjustment factor that floats month to month to recoup constantly changing energy and fuel costs that rise and fall.

The higher cost of ensuring power reliably stayed on all summer long for all IID customers is reflected in the ECA factor for the next short while. However, it has been a personal priority of mine that these elevated costs are reduced by evening them out as installments into the fall. Customers’ power bills are high enough as they are in the summertime.

There is a price to unpreparedness. Fortunately, unpreparedness and the system unreliability and the higher monthly bills associated with it are the ways of the past.

At the end of summer 2021, IID’s strategy is to procure energy for summer 2022 to ensure our customers have the electricity they need booked nearly a year in advance for the lowest price possible. IID is also preparing to transition to a time-of-use system that has been common for decades to gold-standard public utilities like the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and Salt River Project (SRP). The system and the technology associated with it has the ability to save IID customers money by shifting energy use to off-peak hours at greatly reduced rates.

As Director, I am personally committed to ensuring that our customers experience neither the unreliability of summer 2020 nor the heightened costs of summer 2021. By being prepared far in advance, IID customers will enjoy lower cost, fully reliable service in the summer of 2022 and beyond.

JB Hamby is vice president of the IID Board of Directors and Director for Division 2.