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A Question of Energy

Fri, Jan 23rd, 2009
Posted in Commentary

On the night of January 10, we had the biggest and brightest full moon that we will see in 2009. A walk under this moon would have made streetlights unnecessary.

A big change for my husband and me with our recent move from the Big Woods into Preston was the increase in artificial light. In the woods, with all our house lights off, our only light at night came from the moon and stars. In town, with all our lights off, it is not dark at night in our new house. Streetlights illuminate the neighborhood. Every other streetlight could likely be removed without causing any hazard and thereby saving electricity.

We're all familiar with alternative sources of energy, such as wind power, solar power and biofuels. These energy sources become increasingly important as the threats from global warming rise. Coal-fired power plants produce most of our electricity at present. These plants along with oil refineries and automobiles create most of our greenhouse gases, which are the main contributors to climate change.

In addition to using alternative energy, we can reduce greenhouse gases by acquiring the habit of using less energy. Turn the thermostat down in winter, up in summer, turn the temperature down on the hot water heater, replace driving short distances with walking or riding a bike, use energy efficient appliances, dry clothes on the line instead of in a drier and turn off all unnecessary lights.

I remember long ago nighttime drives with my parents to see Christmas lights in our town. Times have changed and it is no longer okay to fill yards with holiday lights, although for some people the practice continues. The wish to celebrate Christmas with decorations is understandable, but a few tastefully placed LED lights should be sufficient. LED (light-emitting diode) colored lights are highly efficient and reliable. These are the kind of lights used as indicators on TVs, radios or telephones, for exit signs and increasingly for Christmas decorations, but generally are not bright enough for lighting rooms.

Preston Public Utilities (PPU), through "Catch Savings in Preston," is promoting the use of compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), another good way to conserve energy. The promotion booklet states, "PPU is providing each household they serve with up to 50 free CFLs, a $140 value, to replace your energy-guzzling incandescent bulbs as together we make a difference in becoming more efficient-saving energy, money and the environment!" The booklet tells us that CFLs use a quarter of the electricity of incandescent bulbs and can reduce electric bills by about $110 annually and $1,000 over their life. They also last 6,000 to 12,000 hours, or about 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. The promotion states, "If every home in Preston replaced all of their incandescent bulbs with CFLs, it would save enough electricity to power 100 Preston homes annually and provide the same environmental benefit as planting 340 acres of trees." A disadvantage of CFLs is that they contain mercury, so should be recycled or disposed as hazardous waste.

PPU is to be commended for their efforts. Curiously, though, while promoting conservation of energy and care for the environment in one way, PPU has misused resources in other ways by sending each customer via UPS a package wrapped in plastic, which is a petroleum product and is not biodegradable. In the package were a form for completing a list of current incandescent bulbs in the customer's home, a booklet with color pictures describing the benefits of using CFLs and a small plastic utility tray. The utility tray was unnecessary. All the information in the booklet could have been provided on one sheet of paper and, along with the form for customers to complete, could have been sent with monthly utility bills.

Excess packaging of nearly every item available for purchase continues to be a problem; most of it is not recyclable or biodegradable and the energy needed to produce it harms the environment. Fortunately, many individuals have helped to reduce the use of plastic shopping bags by bringing their own reusable bags to stores, especially grocery stores and many grocery stores, including Preston Foods and other area stores, are encouraging the practice by selling reusable bags.

Many households are already using fluorescent lights and are engaging in other energy saving practices. We all need to acquire these habits. Our lives depend on it.

Nancy Overcott of Preston

writes about nature and the environment. She can be reached at

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