Saving power can be hard

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Ventura County Star

SACRAMENTO — When Gov. Gray Davis asked Californians on Monday to voluntarily cut electricity consumption by as much as 7 percent, he cited the example of putting a computer in sleep mode when it is not in use.

But energy experts say that for consumers to cut electricity use by that amount it would take a lot more than simply putting their computers to sleep. It would also mean putting their wallets to work.

“Yes, it’s possible to reduce usage by 7, 10 even 15 percent in most people’s homes, but it takes time and it takes investment,” said Chuck Goldman, a staff scientist who specializes in electricity efficiency at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“The governor has put out an aggressive, ambitious target.”

Attaining that level of reduction will be particularly difficult in the absence of economic incentives to conserve, Goldman said.

Last week the Public Utilities Commission approved rate increases averaging 9 percent for Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric.

Those increases are a fraction of the doubling of bills last summer in San Diego. But even at the height of that crisis, conservation efforts resulted in only a 10 percent drop in demand, said San Diego Gas & Electric spokesman Ed Van Herik.

Consumer advocates on Tuesday said they support Davis’ call for conservation.

“All the consumer groups are on board,” said Nettie Hoge of The Utility Reform Network. “The only silver lining in this whole electricity situation is that conservation is back on the front burner, and it should be.”

Doug Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights agreed, but offered one caution: “Gov. Davis should not expect that he can increase rates but not increase bills. E We want to make sure that this is not an end-around to sneak in a rate hike.”

Davis said his budget proposal to be released today will ask for $250 million in cash incentives to homeowners who buy energy-efficient appliances. That would double the amount now available.

The Home Energy Saver project, developed at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory for the federal Department of Energy, calculates that an energy efficient home in Ventura County uses 38 percent less electricity than the average home.

But to achieve that level of savings, a homeowner would have to invest in insulation, have heating ducts sealed with duct tape and purchase new appliances that carry a federal Energy Star label.

Claudia Chandler, spokeswoman for the California Energy Commission, said an individual’s ability to save electricity will depend mostly on the age of his home.

The two most significant actions most can take, she said, are to upgrade ceiling insulation to R-38 and to seal joints in heating and air-conditioning ducts. In a typical older home, as much as a third of the conditioned air escapes into the attic and out the roof.

Mostly, Chandler said, the conservation effort asks Californians to make common-sense choices.

“We don’t recommend people go out and buy a refrigerator if they don’t need one,” she said. “But if they do need to replace it, an Energy Star model of the same size and with the same amenities will use half the energy of the old one.”

Without home improvements or new appliances, Goldman said, Californians could reduce electricity consumption by “a couple percent through a sustained conservation ethic.”

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