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Hot Spell Pushes Xcel To Near Record Power Use

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Buzzing cicadas signal yet another hot August day. But it's the scorched lawn and grinding of an air conditioner that are Brett Severson's clue.

"My A/C is running all the time -- I'd guess my bill is about $400 a month," Severson said.

Xcel Energy's record demand for electricity came on July 20, 2011 when 9,544 megawatts of power was consumed that day. Despite the current spell of hot, humid weather, Monday's peak demand fell 10 megawatts short of the record -- 9,434 megawatts.

Todd Sarkinen manages Xcel's Transmission Control Center, a room with computer consoles and walls lined with electronic maps. It's here that workers keep watch over the entire system of high voltage transmission lines.

Sarkinen says all of Xcel's power plants are currently generating near capacity, with the exception of Sherco unit three, which is down for repair. Still, all other sources are supplying more power than is currently needed by customers across the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Although Xcel was expecting to set a new record peak for electricity on Tuesday, all it took was a slight change of the weather.

"On Tuesday the forecast was to exceed the all-time peak, and up until noon we were ahead of the pace," Sarkinen said. "Then the cloud cover came in and it held the load down."

Conservation efforts are also helping keep power demand in check. Saver Switches on air conditioners give Xcel the option of shedding load when demand is getting dangerously close to peak supply. In exchange, customers who volunteer for the switches receive a 15 percent discount on the utility bills during the summer months.

Also, the addition of wind turbines is putting a great deal more electricity into the grid. During Monday's high demand some 600 megawatts of power was supplied by wind turbines, that's more than 6 percent of the total electric demand.

For Severson, his electric bill will be going down after he recently had his home re-insulated.

"It was really amazing to go up in the ceiling and see the light fixture and how much heat or cold goes out," Siverson adds.

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