Tracking kilowatts

Going green
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  August 8, 2007

This summer, I’ve purchased about 12 compact fluorescent light bulbs, several pounds of organic beauty products, one set of organic cotton sheets ($40 at Target! But wait — Target’s a chain store! Sigh), and a bike, bike helmet, bike lock, and bike-back rack (but wait — apparently the extra calories I eat to make up for the extra exercise may be worse for the environment than driving would be. Sigh).

I was beginning to tire not only of the drain on my bank account, but also of the calculations of the costs and benefits of my eco-changes. I needed some solid evidence that I was doing some good.

Such evidence came in the form of my most recent electricity bill from Central Maine Power. It seems that my beau's and my efforts to turn off lights and appliances when I’m not using them, and to switch off power strips to reduce stand-by power draining from cellphone chargers and computers, are adding up to — or rather, subtracting from — kilowatt-hours. From mid-May to mid-June, we used 118 kwh; from mid-June to mid-July, we racked up just 102. At almost nine cents per kwh, that equaled $1 saved (and, at about 1.3 pounds of carbon dioxide per kwh, that’s 21 pounds of CO2)!

I realize that one dollar isn’t going to change my financial future, nor are a few pounds of CO2 going to change the Earth’s. But it’s something tangible that I can point to as progress. Plus, I can continue to use kilowatt-hours as one measure of my carbon footprint. My goal is to cut my kwh by 10 next month.

Encouraged by my energy-conservation success, I decided to go even greener. Rather than thinking of my dollar(s) saved as beer money, I opted to reallocate them toward renewable energy, which I signed up for online through Competitive Energy Services’ Maine Renewable Energy. All I needed was my Central Maine Power account number and within minutes, I joined 2500 other Maine customers in shifting my power source to a Maine-based hydro-electric generating plant — renewable, with zero emissions.

"Green power" through MRE is slightly more expensive than my standard service (right now it’s at about 11 cents per kilowatt hour, two cents more). But if I continue to slash my energy use, my wallet won’t feel the difference. Here are some of the ways I could do so:

Continue to be vigilant about turning off unused lights and appliances.

Plan my oven and stove use with electricity use in mind — do ovens really need to pre-heat?

Invest in a Smart Strip power strip: a surge protector that senses when your computer or TV turns off, and shuts down all your peripherals (printer, speakers, DVD player, etc.). Come to think of it, this would be a great product to implement in the office.

Learn to sleep without the white noise of the fan.

I could unplug my refrigerator and invest in a cooler or even a chest freezer for must-chill/freeze items. Has anyone out there done this? Is it worth it?

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