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Queen Elizabeth II doing her part to save on energy

Snuggie for queen? Palace solar panels?

- - Wednesday, December 21, 2011

LONDON Forget Marie Antoinette, who, when told that peasants had no bread, apocryphally said: "Let them eat cake."

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, whose cash-strapped country has enacted belt-tightening measures, has taken it upon herself to cut back on the perks that make the life of a royal so, um, royal.

Noblesse oblige? Call it the thrift of the throne.

The queen is learning how to pinch a pence.

Around the gilded hallways of the queen's London residence, Buckingham Palace, posted notices urge the staff to take a more frugal approach to life.

"The attention is drawn to all members of staff to the need to switch off unwanted lights - By Order of The Master of The Household," they read, according to the Financial Times, which also reported that the 85-year-old queen routinely totters around the palace turning off lamps.

Britain's monarch probably was not considered when the Conservative-led government committed itself to eradicating "fuel poverty" - households that spend more than 10 percent of their annual income on heating and lighting - by 2016.

But soaring energy costs and an inconvenient freeze on royal funding by the government have left Queen Elizabeth close to joining her 5 million subjects in that classification.

Bills for heating and lighting four historic palaces and a castle are costing the queen an increasing percentage of her $50 million annual income. Last year, the royal electricity and gas bill was $3.4 million - about 7 percent of the monarchial income.

With the funding freeze in effect, further price increases could push the queen's spending on energy to 10 percent of her income, placing the United Kingdom's head of state into fuel poverty.

Even so, Queen Elizabeth would have an annual income far beyond that of the average Briton, who earned about $40,000 this year. But in case she is worried, her subjects and tourists in London are suggesting ways trim the royal budget.

Rent a room

The royal family already is renting out rooms at St. James's Palace - the London home of Princess Anne and a clutch of lesser nobles - for corporate events during the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The rent: $46,000 a day, according to the Daily Mail.

Londoners note that Her Majesty has larger and swankier digs that would fetch a pretty farthing as rental properties.

Buckingham Palace, which has served as the official London residence of Britain's sovereigns since 1837, has 775 rooms - including 19 state rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms.

That's a lot of bedrooms, especially if Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip have one bedroom each and don't have 50 guests sleeping over.

A one-bedroom apartment featuring a shared tennis court around the corner from the palace is on the rental market for $1,300 a week, or $67,600 a year. Multiplied by 10 renters, the resulting income could cover a fifth of last year's royal fuel bill.

The royal family's spokesman has said the queen has no intention of renting out Buckingham Palace. Ever.

Sell a castle

Many of the properties occupied by the royal family are, in fact, owned by the state.

However, the queen does own Sandringham House in Norfolk and Balmoral Castle in Scotland, among others. She could save on their upkeep - and turn a nice profit - by selling one or more of them.

Parting with a property that has been in the family for several generations likely would be emotionally wrenching, but it also might ease any financial stress caused by rising fuel bills.

Forbes reported in 2001 that Sandringham and Balmoral together were worth $150 million. Given that average property prices in the United Kingdom have doubled over the past 10 years, those estates likely would be worth $300 million today.

Braving almost freezing temperatures outside Buckingham Palace, visitors and tourists offered a few ideas of their own.

Stephen Geary, 42, and his mother, Joyce, 76, from London, suggested that Her Majesty could save energy costs by installing solar panels on the roof and ditching her fleet of Rolls-Royces for subway travel.

"The queen could go back to traveling by horse and carriage," said Mr. Geary. "It would be cheaper, there would be no carbon emissions, and she could sell the manure to the local garden center."

Save water

A Singaporean tourist named Amy suggested that the queen could drink cheaper alcoholic beverages and recommended mulled wine.

"Selling off castles should be a last resort, but she should make every effort she can to set a good example by not being too extravagant," said Amy, 42. "That would be good for the country."

Keagan Brewer, 24, from Australia, said Her Majesty could save on water bills by turning off the tap while she soaps herself in the shower, before turning it back on to rinse.

His friend Whitney Gresham, 22, suggested that the queen could shower with a friend to save on the water bill. "She should get a Prius, sack a few butlers and use candles instead of electric lights - it would be more romantic," the Californian said.

Ms. Gresham had visions of a fleece-wrapped queen, suggesting that Britain's sovereign switch off the heating and buy a Snuggie - a blanket with arm sleeves.

Another Californian - Lori Lindsay, 43, of San Francisco - offered a frugal tip: Don't flush the toilet unless absolutely necessary.

"We have water shortages in California and we have an expression, 'If it's yellow, keep it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down," said Mrs. Lindsay, who was visiting with her young family.

"That's disgusting," said her husband, Eddie, 45, originally from Northern Ireland. "It's terrible that the austerity measures are hitting middle and lower classes while bankers are still getting bonuses, even though they've been bailed out by the taxpayer, when some people can't afford food and heating."

The queen may be spending a greater chunk of her income on heating and lighting, but it's unlikely she will reuse tea bags or eat leftovers for breakfast anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the British government is considering a new definition of fuel poverty that would eliminate wealthy households by assessing whether fuel costs push income below the poverty line.

Funding freeze or not, the queen's income easily remains above that threshold - unless more austerity is to come.