Issue 218, February 26, 2001  
 
 
 

Only The Poor Will Freeze In The Dark

By Stephen M. Lawton

      Decisions, decisions. Do I turn on the laser printer now, when I'm just walking into my office, or do I wait, turn it on when I need it, then turn it off again? Maybe I should get rid of it altogether and get one of those new-fangled "color output devices" — multicolor pens and blank paper. After all, I already edit in red — what's a few more colors?
      The energy crisis, like so many other crises we face here in California, is a reality more because of political decisions that deregulated the energy industry, than because of a power shortage. Other states have deregulated the power industry without having daily rolling blackouts.
      It appears that the crisis will only be fixed by more political intervention. Gov. Gray Davis has asked Californians to cut back on their consumption by 7 percent, but Davis gave no guidelines on just how his 7 percent solution will work.
      If I'm a small business executive and turn off half of my interior lights, eliminate the music-on-hold feature from my phones and unplug my coffee pot, will that reduce my usage by 7 percent? If I turn off all of my exterior lighting at night, will that make the grade? I don't know — and neither does anyone else.
      Apparently, turning off exterior lighting will do nothing at all, if you use the San Francisco skyline at night as a representative indicator. Driving home over the Bay Bridge, I see San Francisco lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree.
      The Bank of America colors blaze brightly over its sponsored clock tower, and Pac Bell Park is clearly identified to all who gaze in that direction, despite the fact that nothing is going on at the park in the evening. Hotels and other companies with fat wallets continue to light up the sky with advertising, not to mention the ubiquitous billboards that line every street.
      Conservation, it seems, is only for those who can least afford to pay huge power bills: the small and midsize businesses. Pacific Gas & Electric, which contracts with some industrial users to allow it to shut off their power a given amount of time during the year in exchange for lower rates, used up virtually all those minutes in the first three weeks of 2001.
      Oh, and just how are PG&E and other utilities saving their money?It certainly isn't by cutting back on political donations. News reports say donations are still funneling into Sacramento.
      One edict that helps but is late in coming: Gov. "Punxsutawney" Davis' law that puts California in the energy business also requires companies to reduce outdoor lighting during nonbusiness hours. Problem is, they don't have to comply until March 15, six weeks from the date the law was signed. If they don't comply, the law only calls for a $1,000-per-day fine.
      How appropriate the news should hit on Groundhog Day — it looks like we're in for six more weeks of rolling blackouts and Stage 3 alerts. Now, governor, how about the natural gas?

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