City drill tests need for energy efficiency 

REAP Editorial by Stephanie Nowers in the Anchorage Daily News: On Wednesday, the city of Anchorage will conduct a second test of its emergency “Energy Watch” conservation plan. Residents will be asked to turn down their thermostats, click off unneeded lights, and postpone doing the laundry and dishes, all in an effort to see how much energy we can save in an emergency.

It’s a worthy drill for dealing with an unlikely but very scary possibility facing Southcentral Alaska this winter — Anchorage, Mat-Su and the Kenai could run so low on natural gas on a high-demand, cold winter day (or night) that, unless we cut our energy use, the utilities will have to resort to rolling blackouts to keep the gas flowing that heats and lights our homes. But there’s an easier, more permanent way to reduce our energy use without pulling on parkas and wool socks, and forgoing showers.

It’s called energy efficiency. Unlike conservation (i.e. turning off lights), energy efficiency is about leveraging technology to cut our energy use without forgoing creature comforts. In our homes, it’s simple things like installing programmable thermostats and putting appliances like computers and TVs on power strips that can significantly reduce our energy consumption. In our own home, we added power strips a few years ago on our television and computers and cut our power use by 10 percent.

Installing energy-efficient lights is another simple, energy-saving change. New compact fluorescents use a third to a quarter of the energy of traditional incandescent bulbs. Taking it a step further, we can add insulation to our homes, replace inefficient heating systems or even design our buildings in the first place to use less energy.

Across Europe and to a growing extent in the United States, people are building “passive houses” that, in some cases, are designed and insulated so well they don’t require a central heating system. Imagine not needing that yearly furnace inspection or repair bill.

In Alaska we have everything to gain from energy efficiency. We pay some of the highest energy prices in the country — more than five times the national average in some rural areas — and we have plenty of energy-inefficient buildings. We also face an uncertain energy future with oil production declining and the supply of natural gas from Cook Inlet in question.

There’s no doubt we can accomplish a lot with conservation. So do your part. Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. turn off those lights, turn down that thermostat and show what we can do. But then take a step back. Look around your house and business, check out the state’s new energy-efficiency website www.ak, and find those things that will reduce your energy use not just today but every day. We all pay for the energy we consume. Let’s be smart and use it wisely.

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