Jimmy Isom, manager of engineering for CU’s Electric Division, reported that in spite of the record heat wave no such records were set for electricity consumption by the local utility’s 30,000 customers.
The surprisingly modest electric consumption was linked to a seasonal midsummer shutdown by several area industries that always close their doors for an elongated July 4 holiday. Sometimes the shutdown length is a week or longer. Because of the traditional volume of their kilowatt hour use, local manufacturing shutdowns greatly impact the power demand on CU.
Although electric use during the heat wave came nowhere close to local records, water demand did close in on 15 million gallons for several days, according to Craig T. Mullinax, vice president of CU’s Water Division. During the height of the heat wave, CU pumped more than 14 million gallons daily for a full week. Water use is not expected to lessen unless consistent rainfalls return to the area.
In spite of the heavy water demand — linked primarily to irrigation (lawn sprinkler systems) — Cleveland Utilities was pumping only about 66 to 67 percent of its capacity. Five years ago, the CU capacity increased from 15.3 to 21.1 million gallons per day with the expansion of the Hiwassee Utilities Commission plant.
“We feel confident we can supply our customers’ water needs,” Mullinax said. But that wasn’t always the case; at least, until the HUC plant on the Hiwassee River was expanded. Now, if the Cleveland Filter Plant hits its capacity (about 8 million gallons per day), then the HUC plant kicks into a higher gear and furnishes even more water to the Cleveland area.
A drying summer is beginning to cause drought concerns among some although late afternoon thundershowers are beginning to re-enter the forecast as late-day heating creates unstable weather patterns.
Even with a few pop-up thunderstorms recently, rainfall numbers are still looking dismal in the Cleveland area. Mullinax pointed out through June 30, the Cleveland Filter Plant had recorded only 19.61 inches for the year, compared to 34.30 inches for the same period in 2011. He said this is the second driest year so far since CU began keeping rainfall records 17 years ago. The driest came in 2007, when only 13.04 inches had fallen through June.
So far in 2012, the month of January saw 5.37 inches of rain; February had 3.45; March noted 4.90; April had a dismal 1.16 inches; May recorded just 2.11; and June reported just 2.62 inches.
“We are getting pretty dry,” Mullinax said, but stressed CU’s expanded capacity should continue to meet demand for the forseeable future.
CU’s water supply is the Hiwassee River, prompting CU President and CEO Tom Wheeler to point out, “As long as the Hiwassee River has water in it, we’re in good shape.”
The only catch would be a major line breakage in the CU water system, Mullinax noted. This would cripple parts of the existing system until repairs could be made.
Based on the area rainfall trends for 2012, the Cleveland Utilities service area stands to receive only 39.22 inches by year’s end which would be a drop from normal by 13.54 inches, according to Mullinax.
In a related Water Division report, Mullinax pointed out during the month of May, the division recorded 34 meter sets, compared to 22 in May 2011, and 20 in May 2010. A meter set is the physical connection of a new structure — residential or commercial — to the existing CU water system.
Increased meter sets are a gauge of construction activity which in turn is often used by economic analysts to keep a finger on the pulse of the regional economy.
Of the meter sets recorded by CU for May, 17 were for single-family homes. Five were for small commercial customers and four were for irrigation systems. The remainder were for multiunit townhomes.