Saudis, Chevys and You = Cheap Gas

You won’t find many people on the street complaining about the price of gasoline which means we Minnesotans have only the nice weather to complain about now. Unseasonably warm temperatures have lead to poor ice for fishing and little snow for winter sports.  Yes, a cold, snowy week or two is just what we need to kick in our winter-based economy and begin a new discussion on the topic of too much cold and too much snow.  But we digress. Gas is cheap and that has been a nice thing!  Here are some reasons as to why gasoline hovers around a comfortable $2 per gallon today.

  1. The world’s top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, along with OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) made a 2014 strategic marketing decision to support and increase market share in oil exports by selling at a low price rather than cutting production to increase oil price. This is a 180 degree “about face” compared to the 1973 oil embargo which saw OPEC withhold world oil exports making for unprecedented price spikes and even rationing. This swing in policy is a strange but real aspect of free markets and certainly a “win” for consumers today.
  2. An underlying aspect to the aforementioned phenomenon was the fact that the demand for imported oil has been decreasing. S. Energy Information Administration data reveals oil imports to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia were 2.2 million barrels per day in 2003 and just over 1 million barrels per day in 2014.  While the economy is a major impact on energy demand, it would be remiss to overlook the effect of efficiencies seen in transportation. The average passenger car in 1973 achieved 13 miles per gallon compared to an average of 36 miles per gallon for this category 40 years later! Good job Detroit!
  3. Receiving even less credit for low gas prices than a Chevy Cruz is the average S. energy consumer. Today, people want and demand high mileage vehicles, well-insulated homes and energy efficient appliances. Even young school children are aware of energy saving practices such as turning off lights and using less water. Fact is U.S. consumers spends half (in comparable dollars) on the purchase of energy today than we did 40 years ago!

Congratulations to you!

Santa Navigating New Technology

Reports have it that Santa Claus has been adapting to new technology, but attempts to contact the North Pole for comment have been unsuccessful so far. It’s understandable. It’s the Christmas season and let’s face it – the guy is busy! In honor of Santa:

T’was a night before Christmas and the ten o’clock hour,
The household slept comfy with dependable power.
Stockings were hung where the hall and den meet
On the table for Santa – a letter and treat.

When out on the lawn there arouse such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed and quick emptied my bladder.
I thought, “The carpool is early” while brushing my teeth.
My hair sticking out like a bad Christmas wreath.
Then I plugged in the coffee and unplugged the phone
Looked for some clothing, then let out a groan
Cause it dawned on me cruelly – it is not a work day.
So I went out to inform my carpool friend Ray.

But Ray was not there, it was just me and the night
Something was different, something wasn’t quite right.
The LED yard lights cast a shine on the snow,
Highlighting two sleigh tracks scratched deep in a row.
The tracks marked the way past the hot tub and shed
“Not the heat pump!” I thought with a strange sense of dread.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a man dressed in red with a sleigh and some deer.
They were wandering around as if lost in space.
The guy dressed in red asked, “Where do you park at this place?
It looked like those yard lights would outline a landing,
But I’m telling you man, I’m just glad to be standing.
There’s a satellite dish and big mirrors on the roof.
A cell tower next door near broke off Prancer’s hoof!
The heat pump out back ‘bout did in the skis.
I long for a time when I only feared trees!

Then he gave me a wink and went straight to his work.
His wrist watch computer listing every small perk.
He sprang back to his sleigh and sat down on his throne,
As his fusion-powered rocket rose up like a drone.
But I heard him exclaim as he rode out of sight,
Good thing for technology or I’d be here all night!
And he yelled out once more and he said it with cheer,
Merry Christmas to all and to all a great year!

Holiday Lighting – A Short Course

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The Christmas season is here and with it comes cherished traditions not the least of which is decorative lighting. Indeed, trees and homes adorned in colorful strings of lights add to the joy of the season, but there are things you should know.

Energy Consumption

There are four types of lights used most often in the U.S.

  • LED (light emitting diodes) bulbs are the newest and most efficient technology with each bulb rated at a miniscule .057 watts, or put another way, a 70-bulb string will draw 4 watts of electricity. LEDs are versatile and are used to duplicate the look of traditional incandescent lighting strings.
  • Mini Lights (T1 ¾ incandescent) are recognized as a small tube with a pointed top and are rated at .5 watts each, making them the “energy savers” prior to the introduction of LEDs. For comparison, a 70 bulb string of mini lights would draw 35 watts of electricity.
  • C 7 bulbs (incandescent models) are 2” long candle-shaped light bulbs which were the standard for many years. The incandescent models are noticeably hot to the touch due to the fact that they draw 5 watts per bulb or 350 watts if you had a string of 70.
  • C 9 bulbs (incandescent models) look identical to C7s but are 3’ long and rated at a sizeable 7.5 watts, which draw a whopping 525 watts for 70 bulbs!

Safety

Read manufacturers’ recommendations to be sure you are using the correct bulbs and the correct number of stings in the correct applications. Some examples: the large wattage of C9 incandescent lights typically has them rated for outdoor use only and connecting too many strings of lights together can overload circuits.

A Good Tip

Holiday lights, even “top-quality” ones, are relatively delicate simply on the fact that the parts of the lighting string are very small. Small fuses protect small wire that feeds small connections and small bulbs.

Avoid stressing lighting strings as much as possible by feeding them out carefully when you install them and then again, folding them in a cautious manner when you store them away. Many are the homes where dropping, banging and crunching strings of lights has led to more frustration than we have room to cover here!

So read directions, handle with care, enjoy the season and enjoy the lights!

Gift Shopping? Easy Electric Ideas

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It goes without saying that some of the best gifts are simple ones whether it’s a ball, a special food or maybe a commitment to spend time with others. But if you are stuck for gift ideas, electric and electronic devices are here to save the day!

For starters, there are plenty of handy items for the home such as wireless printers, wireless speakers, voice-activated light switches, energy-saving lighting products, new wave pizza cookers, powerful compact radios and of course flat screen TVs. There are more electronically-enhanced toys coming out every day, but among the most popular are the amazing hover crafts which are affordable, great fun and easy to use.

Some clever personal devices include “wearables” that not only record how far you travel each day, but also calculate calories spent and monitor how well you sleep!  There are ear phones with blue tooth and ear phones to enhance the video game experience.  Electric shavers and electric tooth brushes are nothing new but they are as popular and practical as ever.  Do you have an electric tooth brush?  If not, you should try one—really.

This blog could go on and on if naming products was the goal. Instead, it is a simple message. Electric and electronic products provide value to everyday life in a myriad of ways — that’s good stuff when it comes to gifts!

Reflections from the Woodshed

Mike and his wood pile

Photo: Mike Birkeland, Director of Member Service & Community Relations for Lake Country Power, is pictured with his best pal, Chestnut, at his woodshed.  

It’s hard to imagine. It’s even ironic ― at least from a utility perspective, but let’s shut down all the electronic gadgets for a moment and step back in time.

Put yourself in the position of the Pilgrims and Native Americans who celebrated that first Thanksgiving in the early 1620s.

The European settlers had just crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower and landed on Plymouth Rock. They battled illness and death all the way across. Their early days in the new world brought more of the same.

According to the history books, their new neighbors, the local Natives, knew how to live and work off the land. They shared what they knew. The technology of the time, flint and stone, was used to plant corn and make fire. It was primitive. But it kept people alive.

Now fast forward nearly four hundred years. What if we put ourselves in the shoes of the early settlers or Native Americans who first inhabited this land?

They had very little. Yet they came together and gave thanks for the resources, blessings and gifts bestowed upon them by their Creator.

It makes me wonder … in this world of instant gratification, media manipulation and technology overload if we truly understand the meaning of “giving thanks” and being thankful for all that we have?

Maybe I’m just getting old. Perhaps I’m becoming more cynical.

Either way, if TV news channels, social media or presidential elections are any indication, I don’t get the sense we’re thankful for much anymore.

But as we settle in for Thanksgiving this year, my hope is we take a deep breath and make it more than another day to sit on the sofa and watch football.

Maybe this year we’ll actually toss a football with our kids or grandkids. Or, maybe we’ll invoke a little old-school thinking and play Yahtzee, a game of rummy or roast chestnuts on an open fire.

Oops. Sorry. I’m mixing seasons a bit. Besides, I really don’t know anyone who has ever actually roasted chestnuts on an open fire.

But it sounds good, doesn’t it?

And that’s the point. People didn’t have much “back in the day.” And they still got by. It probably made the little they had that much more meaningful.

This year, as we enjoy a warm home, a hot meal and the comfort of family or friends, let’s be thankful for all that we’ve inherited from our forefathers and mothers. Whether its freedom, liberty or faith, we have much to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving ― from all of us at Lake Country Power. May it―and you―be blessed. 

 

Deer Camp Lighting

LED Lights

There are many today who still prefer standard incandescent light bulbs over compact fluorescents (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). A concern on CFLs is that they take a few seconds to reach full light output while LEDs are more expensive up front.

Yes, these concerns have some merit, but don’t try to convince the modern deer hunter. Not those who camp far from convenient power supplies anyway.

In many camps and shacks today you’ll find new technology bulbs powered by a 12 volt deep cell battery, a portable generator or even – get this – a small solar array! The new bulbs use a fraction of the energy of incandescent which in turn makes for less fuel to carry, longer life for batteries and small solar arrays possible.

But there are even more reasons for this growing trend. Electric technology provides more light which is important since hunters need good lighting to read magazines about the whitetails they are not getting. High efficiency also means there is less smelly fuel to mess with which can contaminate hunter clothing which, depending on the oddity of the hunter, may be almost odorless or an odor of buck musk strong enough to bring tears to your eyes!

Last but not least, long-lasting LED lanterns and flashlights light the way to the outhouse in the middle of the night while also keeping bears, wolves and the boogie man at a safe distance which adds to safety. And as you know, safety is the first rule of any hunting group!

If you don’t deer hunt you may find good sport in simply locating various CFL and LED products for your home and cabin, but don’t despair, such is the nature of the hunt. There may be some hiding in the automotive department, at a hardware store or on the Internet but they’re out there. Now go out and get ‘em!

Wisdom To Fight Rain

The saying goes “a clean home is a happy home,” but if walls could talk they’d be more likely to say “a dry home is a happy home.” Yes, clean is nice, but for most homes in the Midwest, there is an ongoing “war” of sorts with rain as it attempts to enter in. It’s a battle you don’t want to lose because water infiltration increases energy use and degrades the integrity of your home. Here are a few words of wisdom that will help you be victorious.

The Roof ― “A stitch in time saves nine.” Don’t wait for a leak before paying attention to your roof since wet insulation is poor insulation, not to mention potential damage to interior surfaces. Asphalt shingles vary in lifespan from 20 – 50 years. Check for curled or broken corners on the shingles that indicate they are becoming brittle. Significant loss of granules on the surface of shingles leads to bare spots which also shortens shingle life.

Perforations – “Little things make a big difference.” Your home is a large envelope that separates you from the elements outside. However, windows, doors, chimneys, vent pipes, cable wires, plumbing and electrical conduits present plenty of small seams and cracks where moisture can enter. There are a variety of sealants that provide excellent protection so talk with your local building center or hardware store for the best application.

The Foundation – “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Once water gets to your foundation it tends to want to stay there so do everything you can to keep moisture away from your home. Clean, good-fitting gutters with downspouts that carry water away from the foundation are a great first line of defense. Do not create gardens or landscaping projects that trap rain water against the building. Instead, provide as much natural drainage as possible with a sloped top-dressing of non-porous soil all around the home. Last but not least, drain tile should be installed around the perimeter of your foundation to remove any moisture that does make it there.

Don’t take water problems lying down! Fight the good fight! Don’t put off ‘till tomorrow what you can do today! Don’t worry, be happy! Practice makes perfect! Okay, we’re getting off track now, but the point is to take on your water issues before you have issues.

Just sayin’.

Serious and Mysterious – Dark Matter

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Okay folks. You may want to “buckle your seat belts” so to speak as we take a couple minutes to explore the world of dark matter. If you like mysteries, there is a good chance you’ll appreciate this phenomenon since it is more abundant than any other material in the universe, but scientists have yet to fully understand what it is or how it works. As was noted prior, this topic is quite a “ride.”

In attempting to understand what dark matter is, you have to keep in mind that space is not simply a void between the matter that we can recognize easily such as people, trees, dirt and planets to name a few. Dark matter is present everywhere – we just can’t see it. It is estimated that dark matter and the energy related to it makes up about 95 percent of all matter in existence while people, trees, dirt and planets make up only five percent.

The reason we know dark matter exists is because galaxy clusters do not contain enough visible matter to create the gravity that holds them together. Without sufficient gravity things simply float or zip around randomly. Scientists have also observed the effects of gravity created by dark matter through observations of light that bends as it passes through it like the prisms we studied in high school.

Northern Minnesota is home to two underground research centers, one near Ash River north of Orr and another in a former underground iron mine in Soudan that are attempting to monitor the movement of neutrinos. Neutrinos are defined by Wikipedia as “tiny even compared to other subatomic particles and are the only identified candidate for dark matter. With no interference from outside sources, the underground facilities simply put, are looking for infinitesimal amounts of energy produced as neutrinos collide or react with each other.

Don’t expect all the answers any time soon as the October issue of Popular Science reports dark energy is “a force so weird and mysterious that scientists will be puzzling over it long after the dark-matter case is closed.”

Given this, you now know almost as much about dark matter as anyone else, and you heard it here first!

The Gifts of Trees

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If there is one thing we might take for granted in our great North woods, it is trees. They’re everywhere. It’s just a guess but whoever coined the phrase, “You can’t see the forest for the trees,” likely lived north of Duluth. Regardless, trees are amazing plants that provide us with so much more than campfire fuel. Here are a few facts about trees.

Trees for Building – It takes 90 mature trees to produce the lumber needed to frame a typical 2,000 square-foot home. A well-managed forest can produce nearly 200 trees in a single acre.

Trees for Energy – Just one mature Norway pine provides about 3,600,000 BTU’s of heat when used as a fuel. This is equivalent to 40 gallons of propane or 25 gallons of #2 fuel oil.

Trees for Conservation – The exterior of a home can reach 120 degrees F on a hot summer day. The American Forest website reports deciduous trees located on the sun-exposed portions of your home will provide shade that can decrease air conditioning costs by as much as 50 percent! In winter, a protective barrier of conifers on the north side of a home reduces heat-robbing wind which saves on heating costs.

Trees for Value – The HGTV website reported on a survey that shows a landscape that includes mature trees will increase home values by 7 – 19 percent. That’s a lot of money given the median home cost in Minnesota is $182,000.

Indeed, trees are a gift that keeps on giving. There are more things that can be said, but if you appreciate this renewable resource just a bit more than you did a few minutes ago ― good enough.

The Great Conservation Paradox

By Mark Bakk & Mike Birkeland – published September 29, 2015

Mike and Mark close up

Pictured above: Mike Birkeland, left, and Mark Bakk.

Have you ever wondered why LCP encourages members to conserve energy when the co-op is in the business to sell electricity?

The practice of utility conservation falls under the oversight of rules written by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and energy efficiency laws passed by the Minnesota Legislature. These rules and laws drive conservation decisions for all electric utilities in the state.

The trend really took hold in 2007 after Minnesota passed the Next Generation Energy Act. Since then, state law mandates that all utilities reduce their energy sales by 1.5 percent of their annual revenues each year.

Utilities are required to spend money on conservation measures like rebates for energy efficiency products and programs. We are also required to provide the state with proof that consumers are indeed conserving energy―every year.

What makes it even harder is that last year’s energy savings don’t count this year. The clock, or the “count” if you will, starts over every year. Most business teachers would tell you this is not a sustainable way to operate or maintain a business.

Does conservation affect LCP’s electric rates?

Upward pressure is put on rates when members use less energy. The tipping point occurs when costs continue to rise and energy sales fall. That’s not good for any business, including your not-for-profit electric cooperative.

It was one of the primary reasons the board adopted a long-term rate philosophy in 2012. We now recover most of our fixed costs through the monthly fixed charge.

Historically, growth in the number of consumers and growth in energy sales helped alleviate upward pressure on electric rates. Since 2007, growth has slowed to a virtual standstill and utilities are looking for different ways to recover costs and still meet the obligation to serve consumers with safe and reliable electricity.

What’s it all about?

The conservation movement is about conserving energy and using it wisely. It’s not about saving money. When individual consumers practice conservation, it helps lower individual electric bills for a period of time, but it’s only a small snapshot in the big picture of time.

Some folks say that conserving energy will help lower the cost of electricity because it prevents the “next plant” from being built. But all the conservation in the world won’t prevent the onslaught of new electricity generation that will come on line in the next 30 years because of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Something has to replace coal. And whether it’s a solar system on your rooftop or a wind farm in North Dakota, there is a cost to build, maintain, service and supply any electricity generation source. Those added costs will be reflected in what we all pay for electricity.

Which brings us back to the Great Conservation Paradox.

Don’t take us wrong. Conservation is not a bad thing. It has many positive outcomes, but if you’re only in it “for the money,” don’t hold your cards too long. There is a cost to conservation.

If everyone conserves more and more electricity, there is still an obligation for all utilities to provide safe and reliable service. That’s why LCP’s long-term rate philosophy recovers fixed costs fairly across all rate classes (see “rates” page 3). This philosophy insulates you from the uncertainty of politics, the changing energy industry and price volatility with seasonal energy markets and independent grid operators.

For all these reasons, it’s not a surprise to see other utilities taking the same approach as LCP and implementing cost-based rates.

It’s The Great Conservation Paradox. And our contribution to the cause of critical thinking!

A paradox is a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true (or wrong at the same time). It promotes critical thinking.