A peak alert is not a shortage of electricity; it simply means that demand on our electric system is high. Peak Alerts are issued to reduce our peak energy demand, helping to create lower electric rates for our customers. As a not for profit and community-owned utility, the rates we charge residents and businesses are base entirely on our cost of doing business. As a result, when our costs for energy go up, so must our customers'.

Peak alerts are only issued when absolutely necessary June through September but the number of alerts can vary as much as Minnesota weather. Extreme weather often triggers an alert, and extreme heat and humidity are the culprits.

Why are Peak Alerts necessary?

There are a number of reasons why Peak Alerts are necessary, and they all relate to supply and demand. Our community and the Upper Midwest simply demand more energy now than in the past, and though some new supply has been added to the system, it hasn’t been enough to keep pace with demand. In addition, each household uses more energy now than in the past. Air conditioners are much more common than they once were, and computers and plasma TVs are often in several rooms in each home.

What is the benefit of acting to conserve energy during a Peak Alert?

There are a number of benefits for the community as a whole and for individual residents and businesses. For one, we keep a lid on rate hikes if we take action when a Peak Alert is announced. This is because electricity must be produced on demand, and during peak demand periods additional generators are required. These generators are more costly to operate, and, therefore, they drive up energy costs. By avoiding demand peaks, we can potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, which, in turn, helps keeps rates in line.

In addition to short-term cost savings, conservation can reduce our long-term need for additional power plants. When usage is at its highest, the energy system is reaching its limit, signaling the need for additional generators. Managing our use is a good way to reduce the need for more power plants.

Does a Peak Alert signal a power shortage?

Not necessarily. It’s possible the peak in demand could be an isolated event in our community, and a power shortage would likely come as the result of an entire region running at high demand for an extended period. We have not faced this situation in the Upper Midwest, but if demand growth continues to outpace supply we could see power shortages, which can result in rolling brown outs. This has already occurred in the eastern and western United States.

I’m at work during the heat of the day, so why is it important for me to conserve when I get home late in the afternoon?

Believe it or not, energy use in our community often peaks after typical work hours (after 5:00 p.m.). This is because most residents leave work at roughly the same time, and they all begin using power when they get home. That’s why conserving until the end of the alert is so important.

How do I know a Peak Alert has been issued?

When a Peak Alert has been issued, it will be announced on our local radio stations. In addition, we send out an email that notifies Energy Hero participants of a Peak Alert. To be added to this list, simply send an email to peakalert@austinutilities.com with the words “Add me to your list” in the subject line. This list will only be used for Peak Alerts, and it will not be used in any other manner.

What time of day do I need to conserve energy during a Peak Alert?

The precise period will be specified in the alert itself. Conservation throughout this period is helpful, but demand typically is at its highest during the mid to late afternoon (3:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.).

What are the best ways to conserve energy during a Peak Alert period?

Every little bit helps, and no single action is too small. Here’s a list of a few steps you might take when a Peak Alert day occurs:

  • Set your air conditioner thermostat no lower than 78 degrees and your dehumidifier no lower than 78%.
  • Use electricity for laundry, running the dishwasher, ironing, cleaning, etc., in the early morning or late evening.
  • Avoid using the oven during the heat of the day.
  • Close your drapes to block the sun's heating rays.
  • Unplug unnecessary electric appliances and equipment.
  • Turn off decorative lighting. Keep exterior doors closed as much as possible.