Off-peak heating program is still best heating option

November 2007

If you are one of more than 5,500 Nodak members who heat your home with off-peak electricity, you are in better shape than most entering the heating season. Short of cutting and burning wood, it is pretty hard to find a lower cost heating alternative at this time.

If you have been taking advantage of our off-peak heating program for more than five years, you probably know that it was even better in the past. It’s not that our rate for off-peak electricity is much higher today than in years past, but what you know is that the hours of control time are much greater now than prior to 2003.

During the upcoming heating season, you can expect to have load control and revert back to your backup heating system between 300 and 375 hours. For the majority of our off-peak heating accounts, it makes little difference whether we control 50 hours or 500 hours during a heating season. If a dual heating system is working properly, a home should be just as comfortable when the backup system is operating as when the primary electric system is operating. The only difference is that the backup fuel – usually propane or fuel oil – may be more expensive than off-peak electricity. This will cause the total heating bill for a home to be higher than in past years.

As we have reported frequently, the change in hours of control results from market forces out of the control of Nodak, or our power supplier, Minnkota Power Cooperative. Prior to 2003, in addition to having excess generating capacity, we also had the luxury of buying inexpensive power from the regional market. As a result, when load control would have been necessary, we instead bought affordable energy from the market. This was a win-win decision as we sold more energy to our off-peak customers, and they, in turn used less fuel in their backup systems.

About this time of year, we are frequently asked if we are going to again have hundreds of hours of load control, or are we going to go back to the good old days. The good old days were, of course, when a customer could enjoy a low-cost, interruptible rate and yet have almost no interruption. We regret that the answer is that it is doubtful the regional market will ever allow us to return to that mode of operation.

My coined answer to many individuals the past few years regarding load control is that our off-peak heating option isn’t quite as sweet as it once was. Still, our off-peak heating program is probably the best option available for heating a home or business.

The price of fuel oil, propane and natural gas have all increased dramatically over the past five years. It is not uncommon to hear of people using these fuels whose annual heating costs have doubled over this period. Our off-peak rate in contrast has increased only 16 percent over the same five-year period. As it has been for decades, off-peak electric heat remains the best option with regard to both price and stability.