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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Saving on Electricity

Close by the Los Angeles International Airport rises the giant Marriott Motel —a symbol of electricity waste with its decorative and bulbous outdoor lights punctuating each room throughout the night. Look­ing around that sprawling city, a visiting Martian could surmise that one of Los Angeles’ purposes is to waste energy any way it can — in buildings, homes, cars or trucks.

BUT WAIT — the Feder­al Energy Administration considers Los Angeles the city which has done the most to reduce its electricity consumption since the October 1973 oil embargo. An FEA-commissioned re­port, released recently with no fanfare, relates the story.

On Dec. 21, 1973, Los An­geles’ “Emergency Energy Curtailment Plan” went into effect. Compared to other efforts around the country to cut energy use, this plan was tough. It required mer­chants and building managements to reduce their electricity consumption by 20 percent, while residential and industrial customers of the city’s power utility, the Department of Water and Power, had to achieve a 10 percent reduction. Tough economic penalties were set for violators, including a 50 percent surcharge and temporary power shutoffs.

The urgency behind the plan came from the fact that the DWP feared it would not get enough low sulphur oil from abroad to meet electricity demand. Political, civic and business leaders offered little or no objection to the plan’s cutbacks.

So what happened? Dur­ing the first two months of the plan, overall electricity consumption fell 17 percent below the same period the previous year. For the rest of the United States, aver­age electricity consumption was down about 5 percent.

EVEN AFTER the emer­gency energy cutback was suspended on May 22, 1974, the FEA report noted, “average electricity con­sumption in Los Angeles re­mained 14 percent below the previous year’s level well into a summer that was hotter than 1973’s.”

So great was the waste of electricity that the impact of the emergency program was not only taken in stride but produced dollar savings and a consciousness of where electricity usage could be reduced.

The FEA report on Los Angeles (which you can ob­tain from your senator or representative) is full of examples of how stores, schools, office buildings and other installations reduced their lighting, air condition­ing and heating with no other consequences than an avoidance of energy glutto­ny and lower bills.

Conservation of energy is given more lip service and less actual service by busi­nessmen, government offi­cials and consumers than our country should counte­nance.

THE CHEAPEST, fastest and least polluting way of obtaining an adequate ener­gy supply is to use less.

Through its energy man­agement plan, the federal government has reduced its energy consumption from projected levels between one fifth and one fourth dur­ing the past year. Still, gov­ernment employees in some Washington buildings have complained about excessive heating as have visitors to the FEA’s own offices.

Government vehicles still idle for long periods or waste fuel in other ways. There is much more to save in both civilian and military energy consumption habits.

How much more we can save by thrift alone can be gauged by the per capita energy consumption of prosperous western Euro­pean countries. Western Europeans use less than 40 percent per capita of the energy we consume.

They waste energy as well. But their cars are more fuel-efficient; they use railroads for freight and passengers along with other mass transit vehicles, and such new efficiency as electrically heated homes have not become the vogue.

MANY EUROPEAN cities for years have been generating electricity by burning solid wastes or gar­bage. Frankfurt obtains 7 percent of its electricity from garbage and helps solve its solid waste dispos­al problem.

Americans produce more garbage per .capita than any other country in the world. Some city officials and governors, like Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, are moving to turn these materials into electricity.

According to Environ­mental Protection Agency chief Russell Train, a con­servative estimate of the solid waste .that could be converted realistically into electricity would equal 12 percent of the coal used by electric utilities in the United States.

If our country does not apply rigorous thrift and technology to Ben Frank­lin’s philosophy updated —a barrel of oil or a ton of coal saved is a barrel of oil or a ton of coal earned —consumers will be facing higher bills, more pollution, more perilous nuclear plants and more stampeding of government to give additional subsidies, tax privileges and monopoly power to energy and utility companies.