This page is still
under construction. The sub-pages are generally more complete than
this top page...
23 Oct 2005
Inquirer article new
Slight update, 1 September 2001
No rolling blackouts all summer! What happened?
Another slight update, May 2003
Illegal market manipulation: it is now official.
Another slight update, Jun 2004
Enron tapes are `smoking gun'
What's going on?
The electricity crisis is not all that simple. On the other hand,
it is not all that complicated either. Mostly, what happened is that
California entered deregulation in 1996 with a lot of hope and not much
actual sensible planning. As a result, the electricity supply and
its prices got out of whack with the electricity demand and its prices.
The result is that we have two very large, interlocking problems: electricity
is expensive, and there may not be enough to go around at times.
Sacramento Bee article
Gas prices are already up
If you have gas heat, you are no doubt aware that gas prices have gone
well over $1/therm. The rest of the US is paying about $.50/therm
wholesale or $.80 or so retail; CA prices are running around three times
higher. If you want to save money here, the obvious thing is to insulate,
and put up with freezing indoor temperatures.
Electric rates will go up
The CPUC added a $0.01/kWh surcharge in January. The `legislated
10% reduction' is due to expire next year. The CPUC are working on
a new set of higher rates, with a top rate of around $0.25/kWh; these were
originally supposed to go into effect before the beginning of April, but
they have been delayed while they get adjusted -- no doubt upwards -- and
may go into effect around 1 June 2001 or so. All we can be sure about
today is that they will go up.
What you can do
The most obvious thing is to hold down your usage. Stay at or below
the `130% over baseline' figure -- your baseline is shown on your bill,
and changes for summer and winter (or see this
table) -- and your rates will not go up, by AB1X. Go over it,
and you will pay big penalties. Your last few kWh each month will
probably cost at least 25 cents each, if not substantially more.
(We will not know for certain until some time in May at the earliest.)
Look at bills from last summer to see how you did that year -- your
bill will have a `baseline usage' and an `over baseline usage'. If
your `over baseline' usage is tiny, your rate increase will be small.
Maybe you can just pay it. But what if it is big?
For more on the last method, try this link.
Regardless of whether there is a `payback', you might want to read
perspective on solar PV (outside California).
Replace your refrigerator with a high-efficiency one (read the `energy
guide' stickers in the store and look for the highest efficiency you can
afford). Get rid of any `spare' old refrigerator you have.
You can get paid $75 to have someone haul off your old spare -- this $75
comes from money that the utilities have been collecting for years, so
it is just your own money back.
If you have a garage freezer, see if you can move its contents into your
regular freezer and unplug it.
Run your air conditioner as little as possible. Turn it off when
you are not home; set it as high as you can stand when you are home.
For central air, automatic setback thermostats are great for this -- you
can have the A/C stay off all day, and turn itself on just before you will
get home, in time to cool the house down.
Use those compact fluorescents everyone loves to
hate. A 100 watt
bulb gets pretty hot; a 26 watt CF is not quite as bright but stays pretty
cool. If you are not trying to heat that space, why not use the cooler
bulb? At $0.25/kWh, changing one such bulb that gets used about 3
hours a day, 5 days a week, all year, will save about $14.62 each year
(a bit more than the things cost). They last about ten times longer
than regular bulbs, so they are great for those hard-to-reach recessed
ceiling fixtures. Porch lights are good candidates too. Some
brands seem to be failure-prone; a friend of mine says `avoid Lights of
America CFs'. Phillips and GE are probably good. I had one
USPar die early (after ~3 months of many hours a day), but three others
are still doing fine.
Replace your old washing machine with a high-efficiency front loader.
This uses less hot water as well as less electricity. The good ones
spin-dry the clothes remarkably well, so that the dryer (whether gas or
electric) has less work to do.
Unplug as many `wall warts' and `phantom loads' as you can. A TV
or stereo that uses 10 watts to sit around waiting for the `power on' signal
from its remote control does not seem like much -- but it runs 24 hours
a day, 7 days a week. Ten watts works out to 1.68 kWh/week, or 6.72
kWh/mo. At $0.25/kWh, you would be paying $22 each year just so that
you can use a remote control to turn these on. Put them on a power
strip, and use the switch on the strip to turn them `all the way off'.
(Note: `Energy Star' appliances generally minimize their `24 hour a day'
load. It is mostly the older, non-EnergyStar devices that are culprits
Go solar! This method is very expensive, but if you have already
done all the above, and your usage is still high, it may even turn out
to save money.
More things to do, to save $ on gas, if you have gas heat or gas hot
water. Some of these are the same things that save electricity.
Get an automatic setback thermostat. You will not have to remember
to turn it down at night, and you can have it turn on in the morning before
you get up, so that you do not have to freeze while the house goes from
55F to 65F.
Use low-flow shower heads. Nobody seems to like the `dribble shower'
effect, but it really does cut down on hot-water use.
Do laundry in cold or warm water as much as possible. Get one of
those high-efficiency front-loading washing machines.
Natural gas prices (daily snapshot): http://www.energyintel.com/ResDocDetail.asp?document_id=41286
Weekly California energy market data: http://www.newsdata.com/cem/
 Note that CFL quality varies widely -- there
are good reasons to hate many of them. I only
found ones I was happy with after discovering that a local hardware store
let me try them right there, to observe color and turn-on time. Many
of the packages overstate the `equivalent brightness', so be careful to
compare the `lumens' numbers rather than just believing a package that
says a 14 watt CFL is `equivalent to' a 60-watt incandescent.
All contents are copyright © 2001 Chris Torek.