The letter I’ve been meaning to write

Faithful correspondent Amy Babich commented on the current Chron “green” issue at some length. In pertinent part, she wrote:

Austin’s green programs have two big problems: They leave out the simplest, cleanest, cheapest solutions, and they leave out poor people. The city of Austin will help you buy a hybrid car, an electric lawn mower, an electric bicycle, or a less-polluting air conditioner. But you can’t get help with buying an ordinary bicycle, a human-powered mower, or an ordinary electric fan. I guess the people in charge think that everyone can already afford these things or that no one uses them. All of these cheaper items are greener than the city-subsidized gadgets. What gives?

I’ve never understood why taxpayers subsidize replacement of central air-conditioners in this town. And I’ve never understood why every possible obstacle is placed in the way of pedestrians, except that obviously the City doesn’t consider pedestrian traffic to be traffic. I didn’t take a picture, but this weekend I saw that the City had placed a “one way” sign so as to completely obstruct the pedestrian walk signal at a busy intersection.

MSS recently composed an Austin Metblog entry on the current Kill-a-Watt challenge, making this entirely valid point: “The only downside is that it doesn’t reward people who are already conservation-minded.” Out of curiosity, I took a look at this household’s electric-meter readings for the past year (this June’s reading won’t arrive for nearly a week). In 2006, they were: June, 434 kwh; July, 491; August, 474; September, 470; October, 484; November, 394; and December, 405. In 2007, so far, they’ve been: January, 463 kwh; February, 400; March, 345; April, 355; and May, 350. The average usage per month over the past year has been a little over 422 kwh if my arithmetic’s accurate. We used to average just under 400 over a twelve-month period, but we have an instant-on television and radio these days and they stay plugged in. I also think that a laptop may consume more power than a desktop computer, although I’m not sure. We have not enjoyed our experience with compact flourescent bulbs. Our refrigerator is thirty years old and not getting any more efficient as the years go by.

Here’s the electric rate schedule. We’ve never broken through to the next level, which begins at 500 kwh and above. I notice that most of the tips for reducing use of electricity assume that the habitation is an air-conditioned space. The Kill-a-Watt competition is one that I won’t be entering.

10 Comments so far

  1. mss (unregistered) on June 5th, 2007 @ 7:41 am

    And clotheslines! Why don’t we hear more good hype about clotheslines? There are so many communities in and around Austin that don’t ALLOW them. They should be taken to task as selfish and unpatriotic.

    My bills plainly show the huge impact that air-conditioning has. In non-summer months my usage is also always below 500 kwh. For example, it jumped from 493, in May to 802 in June. In our 2-person household, summer 2006 our usage was as follows: June, 802; July, 798; August, 982; September, 961.

    Any chance those state office buildings and bank towers are going to turn the thermostat up a notch so people don’t have to wear sweaters inside in the summer? It’s hard to be motivated to save pennies when places like that are squandering dollars.

  2. Rantor (unregistered) on June 5th, 2007 @ 8:23 am

    There *is* mention of “air-drying” in those tips. Independent hardware stores (Northwest, Zinger’s, Breed) generally have a full line of clothesline supplies and indoor drying racks. The older state office buildings all had windows that opened, usually tip-out casements (e.g., Supreme Court Building) or crank-out casements (e.g., Sam Houston Building), and so did a great many of the downtown bank buildings (e.g., the bank, now leased to the State, at 11th Street & San Jacinto). Some of these windows have been riveted shut; others have been replaced with fixed-pane lights. Occasionally it can be seen that somebody has popped the rivets and there’ll be an open window, usually very early in the morning.

  3. M1EK (unregistered) on June 5th, 2007 @ 3:05 pm

    Let’s get real. For 99.99% of Austin residents, air conditioning is the way they handle the hot weather. Heck, for about 80% of Austin residents, A/C is a year-round phenomena. Cutting A/C expenses by 5% is thus a far easier win than somehow convincing a couple more people to live without A/C.

    Deal with the world as it exists today. I wish it was easier to keep my windows open, too, but my neighbors’ AC is as loud as mine (and their windows always closed); my wife has a much narrower comfort zone than I do; etc.

    You remind me of Amy Babich re: bicycling – wasting all her tremendous energy tilting at windmills rather than aiming for the low-hanging fruit (much of which goes unpicked).

  4. Rantor (unregistered) on June 5th, 2007 @ 3:41 pm

    This is from a prior comment by M1EK: “I open my windows, and me and all my neighbors have air conditioners and dryer vents on the side of the house.” I was complaining that noisy and smelly equipment and vents are permitted to be placed in residential construction setbacks.

    It’s certainly a pretty good bet that people who live in sealed houses and go from them to their attached garages to their air-conditioned vehicles to parking garages to their air-conditioned offices, then make the same journey in reverse, and who seldom breathe fresh air would probably be quite unlikely to shorten their air-conditioning season or change their thermostat settings. People who do real work deserve to sleep in comfort and, if their houses aren’t from the green-building era, with windows that open, attention to siting to catch air currents, and other ways of remaining cool, why shouldn’t they have air-conditioning if they want it? Nobody’s saying they shouldn’t, just that it appears to be the comfortably off who go out and acquire certain items at a discount and that there are better uses of public resources.

    The windows mentioned above are those in older commercial buildings, not in residences. Remember the old Brackenridge Hospital? Its windows could and did open.

  5. M1EK (unregistered) on June 5th, 2007 @ 4:46 pm

    I threw in the comment about the noisy A/C for your benefit of course.

    I refer again to the likelihood that you’re going to get more than a trivial number of people to live without air conditioning in this climate: within shouting distance of 0. You get a much bigger benefit by convincing the energy hogs to lighten up at the trough than you do by convincing people to live without A/C.

    Given that the public resources in question actually come from the people buying that electricity in rough proportion to their use, it’s more than reasonable to apply them to the folks who use a lot of electricity in an attempt to get them to use less rather than trying to convince us to live like it’s 1884. Since, after all, the goal is not to get people to live without air conditioning, but actually, to avoid the necessity to buy expensive peak power or new power plants.

  6. mss (unregistered) on June 6th, 2007 @ 4:38 pm

    M1EK, I don’t live without air-conditioning nor do I expect others to do so. I was simply pointing out that the AC makes a big impact in my electricity usage. I do believe that we can make changes that enable us to be both comfortable and conservative.

    I’m not advocating returning to 1884. My house was designed in 1946 without AC–not exactly little house on the prairie days. (Apparently AC was installed in 1990 several years before I bought it.)

    There are lots of ways to reduce AC use and most of them were practiced until fairly recently–smaller houses, larger yards, shade trees, screened porches, fans. How sad it is to live in a house where it is unpleasant to open a window or sit outside. I guess you might as well live in a condo.

    My favorite idea comes from Japan where they have energy-efficient room air-conditioners which are used to cool only the room that you are in, when you are in it. Of course, they also have very cleverly designed multi-purpose rooms that enable them to use space far more efficiently than we do.

  7. M1EK (unregistered) on June 7th, 2007 @ 9:43 am


    You weren’t the target of the A/C comments. And I fear you’ve assumed way too much about me as well – I’m constantly pushing to have my windows open over the sometimes objections of the rest of the family – because we’ve got a 1922 house which was designed to cool without the benefit of A/C (obviously).

  8. G. G. Austin (unregistered) on June 7th, 2007 @ 11:57 am

    Individual human being referred to as target? Individual human exempted from target status? How long is the list? Any concealed carry permit involved here?

  9. Peter (unregistered) on June 11th, 2007 @ 11:35 am

    Most laptops actually use significantly less power than most desktops. My desktop will drain my large UPS in about 15 minutes, but my laptop can run for several hours on the small batteries it has. I searched around and found a good breakdown of typical computer power consumption:

  10. Rantor (unregistered) on June 11th, 2007 @ 11:43 am

    Thank you for that information. I think I was making assumptions based on how hot a laptop seems to be (or at least the hand-me-down with which I’m most familiar) and on the fact that the fan seems to be in constant use and I’ve not been so aware of that with a desktop.

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