My turn: Cut back on electricity use to save money, community

Posted: Sunday, May 04, 2008

T his is serious.The current energy situation is a lot more serious than a matter of turning off lights and putting up a clothesline, and a lot more serious than the city's shortening library hours and shutting down an escalator.

The brutal fact is that Alaska Electric Light & Power Co.'s fuel bill is everyone's fuel bill. When those bills hit our mailboxes next month, life in Juneau is going to change dramatically; few people here can afford a fivefold increase in their utility bill without drastically curtailing almost all of their other spending: That will hit every business in town except those that rely exclusively on tourism.

The lights in our houses aren't what are causing those diesels and turbines to spin and we need to do something about the things that are: large-scale heating, lighting, and refrigeration loads. Juneau is a relatively crime free community and the days are getting longer, so we can turn off all the streetlights and parking lot lights.

We can first ask and if necessary demand that all outdoor decorative and advertising lights be turned off. We can first ask and if necessary demand that large stores reduce their operating hours; life went on quite well in this country when stores weren't open 24/7. Coolers not necessary for the safety of products, e.g. soft drinks, beer, and wine, can be shut down; chill your own or drink warm beer, the Brits live on it. Shelf stocking can be done during business hours so that the lights can be off when the store is closed. I drove home from a class downtown Wednesday night and the lights were still on in many of the large office buildings downtown. That may make custodial work easier and may even make sense as a part of the heating load in normal times, but these are not normal times. Custodial work can be rescheduled and the heat is a lot cheaper from oil alone, if it is indeed necessary overnight at all.

A huge percentage of the workforce here works 8 a.m. to 4:30 or 5 p.m., so every light and appliance in town comes on between 5:30 or 6 a.m., causing those generators to all spin up. We can ask and if necessary demand that businesses and offices stagger their working hours to reduce the instant loads. And maybe work appearances can become a little less fashionable; a half hour a day with a 1500 watt hair dryer is going to cost you about $40 a month.

Even though school is almost over, some staggering of school hours might well be considered. Little sports activity this time of year is on lighted fields, but where possible, the start times should be shuffled so that the lights can remain off. Unless you live aboard, boats in the water don't need engine or cabin heat and the water heater(s) and refrigerator(s) can be turned off. Hot tubs are really nice, but mine is off now and will stay off until this is over.

I'm as much into individual rights and choices as the next guy, but this isn't an individual issue. Every gallon of fuel that you cause to be burned, I have to pay for too. AEL&P can get a rate increase, but few of the rest of us can get a wage increase to cover this. Because of my work, I have a pretty good handle on what people here make; utility bills are going to wipe out the discretionary spending of all but the most well off and place the less well off in dire economic straits. I can afford a $3-500 electric bill, but the money I spend on electricity won't be spent on clothes, home improvements, meals, entertainment, boat gas, or anything else that is discretionary. Every business in town is going to feel that fact and it will result in reduced earnings or even layoffs of people much less able to afford their electric bills. We're all in this together, and small individual measures won't do.

• Art Chance is a Juneau resident. He was a state-certified energy auditor in the early-1980s energy conservation and alternative energy programs in Anchorage and later here. His two companies, Enerdynamics and Southeast Solar, were the dominant providers of alternative energy structures and remodeling under the state programs then.

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