- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

In his State of the Union address, President Bush said our nation was “Addicted to oil,” and he was right. Although this assertion might seem self-evident, like most addicts, we have long been in denial.

When the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo first revealed the dangers inherent in our thirst for foreign crude, the nation imported 35.4 percent of its oil. Last month imports were 64.3 percent and are increasing every day.

The price of our profligate oil use is staggering. At current prices, we will spend more than $274 billion for oil imports over the next year. That’s $274 billion that won’t generate employment, investment and tax revenues at home.

It’s not just the economic cost. Each year we spend tens of billions of dollars to protect our access to overseas oil resources. This cost may not show up at the pump, but it is nonetheless real.

But there is another energy crisis we have ignored: electricity. For more than 25 years, capacity margins — the surplus electric utilities need to accommodate sudden surges in demand — have been dropping. In the late 1970s, they averaged 25-30 percent. Today, the national average is under 15 percent and in some areas is as low as 8 percent.

This means when demand suddenly increases, as in hot spells, outages can occur — and do, more often than you might imagine. According to Oak Ridge National Labs, over the last three decades, on average, there has been a power outage somewhere in the United States every 13 days.

Over the long term, the president’s programs will help with both of these problems. But that doesn’t mean we must wait for a research program to start solving the problem. In fact, there are things each of us can do today to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil and mitigate the growing shortfall of electricity output. These measures also can save us money.

If you just stop and take stock of how you use energy, you will be surprised how many opportunities exist to reduce your consumption and lower your energy bills.

You can start in your kitchen, one of the most energy-intensive rooms in a typical home. Kitchen energy costs are second only to home heating and cooling. So what can you do?

Begin with your oven and stovetop. When you’re baking something, resist the temptation to open the oven door and take a peak. Every time you do, you lose 20 percent of the heat in the oven; it then must work overtime to maintain its temperature. Instead, use the window most oven doors have. This not only saves energy, it improves cooking by maintaining a constant temperature.

Also, when preheating, do not crank up the temperature. If you set it at the desired temperature, it will heat up just as fast and will save money. Always match the size of the burner to the size of the pan you use. If the burner is larger than the pan, you’re wasting the heat that escapes around it. Use a glass or ceramic pan, if possible. They transfer heat more efficiently and allow cooking temperatures to be cut 25 degrees.

Turn off the oven during the last 5 minutes of cooking. The oven will retain the desired temperature that long even when turned off, and you aren’t using energy to finish your dish.

Speaking of dishes, always make sure you have a full load in the dishwasher. Running partial loads wastes energy and water. Following these kitchen tips can save up to 30 percent of your kitchen energy use, no small consideration.

You can save substantial amounts on lighting by replacing conventional light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs. A 15-watt compact fluorescent bulb provides as much light as a 60-watt conventional bulb. These bulbs can be purchased for as little as $3 and the savings to the consumer can be as much as $60 over the life of the bulb. One can also use solar-powered outdoor lights to illuminate walkways.

Light-colored ceilings can improve lighting efficiency, as can skylights during the day. Make sure your light fixtures are clean — a dirty fixture can reduce lighting efficiency 20 percent. Throughout your home, replacing older inefficient appliances with new “energy star” models can save substantial energy.

In the end, we really need not wait for some research program or scientific breakthrough to save energy. Moreover, by taking such simple steps, we not only help the country, we help ourselves, and so it just plain makes sense.



Alternative Energy Living Foundation

(Mr. Bialecki builds high-performance energy-efficient homes.)

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