How I Survived California's Energy Crisis

by Teresa Ambord

"Look at this," said Anne. "My utility bill doubled since last month!"

My friend's words scared me. If my power bill doubled, I'd be in double trouble. When California's electricity market went out of control recently, they warned us prices would soar. They weren't kidding. My friend's bill doubled, and before long, it tripled. As a single mom, there was no way I could pay those prices. So I made some changes. And to my great relief, our bills not only didn't increase, but over time, they decreased. The most surprising thing was that we barely noticed the difference in how we live and use power. Here's what I did.

I replaced the light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, which use less energy. But because the bulbs are expensive, I didn't replace them all at once. I started with the most-used lights in our house. Gradually, I replaced some of the others. I decided it was more cost effective to leave the old, cheaper bulbs for lights we seldom use.

Like most people, we make many quick trips into the kitchen or bathroom every evening. Each time, a light was flipped on for a moment or two. A teacher of mine once told me that more electricity is required to turn a light than to leave it on for half an hour or so. I've never been able to prove this theory, but it makes sense. So to avoid flipping lights off and on all the time, I bought some night-lights and installed them in key rooms, such as the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms. They cost a dollar each, use almost no electricity, and last forever. And they provide enough light for most of the quick trips. I even take my shower by night-light, which is more pleasant than the glare of overhead lights.

In two dark closets that have no light source of their own, I installed touch lights that use batteries.

As for laundry, I wash full loads in cold water. If the clothes need a little extra help, I let them soak in the full washer for a while, or pre-treat them. I have a clothesline in my backyard and another over the washer. And in the winter, I use a wooden clothes rack inside. The rack cost nine dollars at Wal-Mart, and saves a bundle. To prevent stiffness, I let the clothes hang till they are almost dry, and then toss them in the dryer with a dryer sheet for ten minutes.

For baking, my big oven has practically been retired. There is very little I can't bake in my toaster oven, which uses a fraction of the energy. Of course, my family is small, so this is easy for me. On the rare occasions I do use my big oven during cold weather, after I've finished and turned off the oven, I leave the oven door open to take advantage of the escaping heat.

As for savings on hot water, each of us cut back our shower times by a couple of minutes. The hot water feels good, but comes at a high price.

Our utility company put the icing on the cake for me. To help beleaguered power customers, they began a program whereby, if we cut back our usage 20 percent, we got a 20 percent discount. Meeting this goal was no problem; in fact, we easily cut back 40 percent. We have met it every single month, and barely noticed the difference in comfort. If anything, the laundry takes a little more effort to accomplish, but other than that, it's been so easy that it is hard to believe how much we've saved.

Now that power has returned to more affordable prices we could splurge a little, but I don't really see a need. We haven't sacrificed much. If anything has changed, it is that we think first before flipping on a power switch. I've gotten addicted to those lower bills and I'm not anxious to let them creep higher. I've got better things to do with my money than to support the power company.

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