Time to go on an energy diet

Thursday, August 3, 2006

All together now: Oink!

Let's face it; we're all energy hogs.

Even if we've purchased a hybrid car, have started walking or bicycling to work to save $3 gasoline, we've got a long way to go to claim we're being careful in using our energy resources.

Yes, many of our household appliances, such as dishwashers, laundry machines and furnaces are much more efficient than they were in the past, but look around.

How big is the house you're living in compared to the one you grew up in?

And, what's plugged in around your house? A computer or three? How about a plasma TV? And, how many video games, cell phones, cordless tool chargers are making the power meter on the side of your home spin?

But by far the biggest energy hog in your home is your air conditioner, and few of us get along without one any more.

As recently as 1978, only about 56 percent of American households had air conditioning, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. By 2001, the most recent statistics available, 77 percent of us had air conditioning.

Judging by the trend, we're easily over 80 percent by now.

Don't believe us? Just ask the folks who energize the power lines.

The Nebraska Public Power District reported generating a record 2,668 megawatts of power on Sunday, breaking a peak of 2,600 set two weeks earlier and the previous record of 2,538 megawatts set on July 24, 2005.

It would have gone even higher, perhaps 2,700 megawatts, had not NPPD paid certain customers to stop using power, which shaved 42 megawatts off the demand.

When demand gets that high, the utility also pays for higher-priced power generated by natural gas or oil -- such as the turbine "peaker" plant along North U.S. Highway 83 in McCook.

All this added expense eventually is passed on to the customer, of course, in the form of higher rates.

NPPD is doing the best it can to keep up, operating nuclear, coal and hydro generating plants. And, projects like the new wind farm in north central Nebraska are exciting.

But wind can't do it all; those 36 new wind turbines south of Ainsworth can put out 60 megawatts of power on a good day. At that rate, it would take 853 of them to produce the equivalent of the two coal-fired units at the Gerald Gentleman Station near Sutherland -- provided the wind is blowing at the right speed.

So conservation is key for the long term and short term as well.

But we don't have to suffer that much to do it.

When it comes time to build or buy a different home or major appliance, keep energy conservation in mind.

Over the short term, NPPD recommends washing clothes and running the dishwasher or dryer during the late evening hours. Turn the air conditioning thermostat setting up a few degrees or use a programmable thermostat. Use less hot water, and close the window blinds to shade rooms from direct sunlight. And, circulate the air in your home with a ceiling or portable fan.

It's time to go on an energy diet. After all, August has just started.

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