Angry about steep rise in electric bill? Just unplug

March 09, 2006|By DAN RODRICKS

More poker could be the answer. Texas Hold-'em, Five-Card Stud or whatever your game, poker could be the answer to rising energy costs. Until a real third party emerges in this country to turn the political-corporate class upside-down and challenge the status quo of windfall profits and CEOs owning four homes, we should all play more poker, and maybe with all the lights turned off but the one over the card table.

You'd save on your BGE bill.

Look, I'm sure the revolution will not be televised. In fact, it looks like they've canceled the pilot.

So, the only thing we can do is live more of life unplugged, and at home.

We're being forced into it anyway.

Am I upset that BGE is going to sock it to us with one of the highest one-year electric-bill increases in the nation?

Yeah. This definitely is going to be an ouch - especially to people on fixed incomes.

But apparently we've been paying below-market rates for six years, constituting a savings of about $1 billion to BGE residential customers, and BGE has been footing the skyrocketing costs of electricity production.

And now the caps on rates are about to come off. Brace yourselves!

The heralded electric deregulation plan of 1999 - brought to us by your Democrat-controlled Maryland General Assembly - did not produce a competitive free market of electricity here. So the end of very fine price controls by the state Public Service Commission in 1999 turns into a 72 percent increase in our electric bills in 2007.

Ouch.

I saw people staring at the front page of The Sun yesterday, mouths agape, as they read the headline: "BGE BILL TO INCREASE $743." (I was also staring at the $55,000- a-year salary that Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich gets for hosting anti-drug programs for Comcast. This was for 16 half-hour shows. Nice. That works out to about $7,000 a TV hour. I don't think Katie Couric pulls that kind of green from NBC.)

People are outraged.

The hate keeps building up.

We hate credit card companies, their fees and interest rates.

We hate medical insurance companies and HMOs.

We hate cable companies.

We hate global energy companies, oil companies, natural-gas companies.

And yet, we're unwilling to turn the political-corporate class upside-down or, more important, change how we live.

We don't save money. We go deeper into debt. We think energy is in great abundance; we don't know how to handle abundance. Households and companies run air-conditioning systems 24/7 and never crack open a window. We fill our lives with motor vehicles, toys, luxury items, satellite service and appliances that suck up large quantities of fuel in all forms. We build houses far away from everything and drive everywhere. We're about big cars and trucks, big TV screens - big, BIG TV screens - multiple TVs, multiple PCs and servers, office buildings with the lights on all night.

No one preaches much about conservation any more. It irritates people.

But so do big BGE bills, the difference being that, when suffering from wallet irritation, people actually take action.

The action that's needed here is not doing more but doing less.

I'm talking about a return to a simpler, more holistic lifestyle - without all the kilowatts.

I'm talking (in the sincerest metaphorical sense) about using a hand-cranked can opener instead of an electric one.

Here's a suggestion: Try one night of the week unplugged.

Stay home, bring the lights way down, gather the kids, tell them to get off the computer and the X-Box, or shut off the TV - and teach `em how to play a game. Play poker. Play hearts. Play Monopoly. Play chess. Play checkers. Spend one quiet evening a week engaged in some sort of activity with the other people in your house - or invite some neighbors over. Get to know them again. Have a conversation without the TV in the background.

Imagine such a world. It's practically Amish.

But I'm not suggesting anything that extreme.

I'm talking about slowly reverting to a lifestyle that has started to become distant and foreign to baby boomers - the world of conversation and regular gatherings, of simple recreation and pastimes unplugged. I'm talking about real talk between people (not on talk radio, not in Internet chats) and the kind of play that doesn't require electricity (bocce in the park, long hikes or runs or bike rides, touch football, backyard Wiffleball). I'm talking about getting out and getting connected to neighbors. If you haven't forgotten how to live that way - a regular homemade dinner or poker game with friends, a quiet evening with a good book or magazine, a walk to a neighborhood diner or coffee shop - then you might be able to pass it along to your children and grandchildren. They might pick up on it and embrace it, and we'll all worry less about them when the future gets here.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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