Utility pays farmers not to irrigate during peak load times

IDAHO - I think few people realize how much water is used for food production.

The numbers are quite mind-boggling, and a side effect of this is that a lot of energy is used to pump that water. So much so that the Idaho Power Company has started paying farmers to turn off their water pumps in the afternoon (during peak demand), resulting in a reduction in electricity consumption of "slightly over 5 percent" during hot afternoons.

While this is good, so much more could be done.

Some experts say that irrigating in the late afternoons is inefficient anyway, because some of the water will evaporate in the heat of the day. However Sid Erwin, who farms alfalfa and other crops in southern Idaho and is vice president of the Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association, said that most local farms — including his — ran their pumps 24 hours a day. There is not enough evaporation to justify paying to send a worker to turn off the pumps in the afternoon, he said.

With the power company paying, the calculus changes. Mr. Erwin estimates that he could save upwards of $10,000 from the program — out of a $40,000 annual pumping bill.

That, he said, should be enough to “pay a man or two or three men” to make sure the pumps are properly turned off and on.

So they run the pumps 24 hours a day because it's less expensive than turning off the pumps? How about a timer system that automatically turns off the pumps at set times? If it saves about 1/4 a year in pumping costs (not to mention water costs), it seems like it would pay for itself pretty quickly.

Maybe power companies could even pay for these timer systems.

But even that would be a half solution. The real way to save both more electricity and water would be to use much more efficient irrigation techniques, such as drip irrigation. Arid countries have developed great expertise, but there's no reason why those techniques shouldn't be used everywhere. It's not because something is more plentiful that you should waste more of it.


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