Vol. 9, No. 6
Feb. 8-14, 2001
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Will California Blackouts Help Us See the Light?

Maryland political leaders and bureaucrats tell us that West Coast electricity shortages can't happen here. Our supply is solid, they say. Our deregulation scheme is smart and measured. Our power grid connecting us with other states is far-ranging and robust.

We don't have an energy crisis.

Folks doing all the reassuring must not be heating with natural gas. Or perhaps they're not paying those punishing prices at the pump for the state autos they drive.

Far be it from us to be bearers of bad news, but we are living an illusion if we think our energy supply is endless.

California's crisis may be that state's own "Perfect Storm," when shortages, greed and bad governing converged like mighty fronts in that popular book and film. Nonetheless, those photos of people stuck in darkened elevators in San Francisco should be a reminder of what can happen to people who don't think ahead.

Driving along the Bay, it's easy to conclude that many people don't care that energy is becoming a scarcer and more expensive commodity. Sport utility vehicles the size of small buses crowd our narrow roads, and all around, new neighbors move into 20-room castles carved out of field and forest.

Energy is so abstract. To change our habits, we need help.

We can change old habits. Recycling is one conservation measure that's been widely successful - perhaps because we keep our hands on it everyday; perhaps because our county governments keep its goals fresh in our minds.

All of us can do something about demand: in our homes, in our choices of vehicles and in our contacts with members of the Maryland General Assembly.

First, instead of assuring us that everything is fine, Maryland officials should tell us the truth in public education programs that teach the wisdom of conservation.

Second, existing energy conservation programs should be better publicized. Did you know that under the Clean Energy Incentive Program, you save Maryland sales tax when you buy the most energy-efficient washing machines and heating and cooling equipment. As of July 1, you'll save on the most-efficient air conditioners and refrigerators, too.

Or that you don't pay Maryland sales tax when you buy energy-efficient cars?

Or that in the not too distant-future, de-regulation - which is so confusing nowadays - will give us the choice of purchasing energy generated from such renewable sources as solar and wind power?

Third, the General Assembly should establish new tax breaks and other incentives to help us - citizens, home-builders and renovators - remember to shop for high-efficiency in our lighting, appliances and computers.

Fourth, we should make our purchases suit our needs as well as our wants. Sure, there's an appeal to owning the biggest car on the road or the biggest house in the village. But against unbridled desire in one balance of the scale, in the other we'd better weigh our real needs, new attractive options just appearing in the market - and a darkened future.

Who knows? Maybe those California blackouts will help us see the light.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly