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Dealing with the energy crisis, drought

In the 1970s, Sacramentans were no different from people all across the country. They saw electricity as a boundless resource and expected to have lavish supplies at their disposal.

That view ended abruptly in the 1970s.

The Arab oil embargo triggered an acute energy crisis in the United States. The government asked Americans to cut energy consumption by 10 percent. Homeowners and businesses accustomed to using electricity freely were asked to change their habits overnight.

It was a time of crisis for electric utilities. Since utilities on the West Coast were linked by large transmission lines, shortages affected 13 states, including California. In Northern California, a drought that began in 1976 left the floor of SMUD’s largest reservoir dry and cracked. Our hydroelectric power output was cut in half.

We responded to the pressures by expanding power generation sources, and the Board of Directors approved a comprehensive energy-conservation program to teach consumers how to use energy wisely.

This program offered free attic-insulation inspections for homeowners, and low-interest financing for increased insulation and energy conservation equipment such as heat pumps. We co-sponsored Sacramento's first Energy Expo, a conservation-oriented home show. The conservation effort expanded to schools and community groups.
Our customers caught the spirit. In 1979, for the first time, electricity usage dropped during the hottest summer periods in Sacramento.

As fossil fuel-fired generating companies raised their rates 30 to 90 percent in response to rising fuel costs, we also were forced to raise its rates.

By 1974, Rancho Seco was up and running. At first, the plant experienced delays, cost overruns and outages. But by 1977, Rancho Seco seemed to be living up to its original promise. During the first seven months of the year, it produced more energy than any other nuclear plant in the world.

In 1979, the nuclear industry was rocked by an accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission required additional security and upgrades that meant years of additional work at Rancho Seco. Rate increases became necessary to fund the changes.

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