Sizzle and conserve

August 03, 2006

It's not the heat, it's the humiliation. If the 100-plus-degree heat wave invading Baltimore and much of the East Coast this week wasn't discouraging enough, just take a look at your electric meter. Ceiling fans don't spin as fast as those dials. BGE reports that record daily temperatures have spawned record power consumption. That's bad news for the environment, for utilities, for already-straining air conditioners, and especially for customers who have to pay the bills.

What's shocking is that people accept this predicament so readily. Remember the anger of just a few months ago, when Baltimore-area residents faced record BGE rate increases? How about mustering a little outrage at your power consumption, too? Particularly when there's plenty the average consumer can do to save power - and money - with only a modest change in lifestyle.

The first step, experts say, is to take aim at the 220-volt appliances like the air conditioning, refrigerator, clothes washer and dryer. Turning the thermostat up to 80 degrees, drawing blinds and running fans can make a huge difference. Refrigerators should be opened as little as possible and freezers kept full (by turning jugs of water into ice blocks, if necessary) to promote efficiency. Another option is to shut down a home's second refrigerator or a swimming pool pump. Washing dishes and laundry at night is also sensible, particularly for BGE's 125,000 TOU (time of use) customers, who pay less for power at off-peak hours.

But there are also less-obvious sources of waste in the average home. Turning off a room dehumidifier (they can cost $20 a month to run), lights and appliances that aren't in use can be helpful. One recent study suggested certain hidden users - computers on sleep mode, instant-on TVs and other appliances that appear to be off but are actually using power - represent 5 percent of the average household's electricity consumption. The best solution? Unplug them all.

The more we conserve, the less we pay - and not just in next month's bill. With a little less air pollution we might even face fewer 100-degree days in the summers to come.

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