July 15, 2001 11:00 pm

Its a good news, bad news story. The good news is, consumer conservation of electricity pays dividends. The bad news is, the Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative still expects electric bills to rise by about 25 percent Oct. 1.

Why does a 25 percent rate increase have a bright side? Well, because several months ago the Bonneville Power Administration announced that wholesale electric rates could rise by as much as 200 percent in October. The BPA has since revised that projection to 46 percent.

Before you begin swimming in numbers, lets look at the human side of the issue. When BPA made its dire predictions, consumers were asked to see what they could do to cut back usage in order to head off a huge rate increase. Many of you responded. Such steps as hanging clothes out to dry on a line, switching to efficient light bulbs, dish-washing on the short cycle or by hand, turning down the temperature on water heaters and much more had an impact on use this summer. So did raising the temperature at which air conditioners begin to spew cold air.

Prepare now for the higher bills ahead. It will be a lot easier for some families to fit the increase into their budgets than it will be for other, less wealthy families. Its time now to sit down with a family budget and plot out how to keep the lights and heat on this winter. It will mean sacrifices such as wearing more clothes and turning down thermostats. But if we all do our part in the shared sacrifice, it can work.

It would be easy to make OTEC and the BPA scapegoats for the increases. But there is no simple or easy answer to the energy crisis. OTEC, as one step to reach out to consumers, is offering conservation programs. These include a compact fluorescent coupon campaign in August to encourage consumers to switch to more efficient lighting systems. Take advantage. Sure, the next year will be difficult. But with planning and an eye on conservation, we can get through to a time when electric rates once again stabilize.