Less is more


Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2005 at 11:39 p.m.
Driving less and using less energy may be inconvenient, but it's the least we can do in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The aftershocks from Hurricane Katrina may be felt in Gainesville, and across Florida, in the form of rolling blackouts and higher gasoline prices and utility bills.
Just one day after Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast near New Orleans, Gainesville Regional Utilities was urging its customers to conserve energy. Although GRU relies primarily on coal to generate power, natural gas fuels 25 percent of its total energy generation.
Like most Florida utilities, GRU gets its natural gas from a pipeline that runs into the state from the region most severely impacted by Katrina. And GRU bills are likely to rise in the face of natural gas shortages.
Elsewhere in the state, utilities that are even more dependent on natural gas, like Florida Power & Light, have been shutting down power to schools and commercial customers during nonoperating hours and taking other measures to reduce fuel usage.
"As a precautionary measure, we are asking our customers to take voluntary energy conservation measures now, not only as a way to lower electric use and the bill, but to lower the impact of what may become a fuel shortage as a result of Hurricane Katrina's impact on fuel production in the Gulf of Mexico," FP&L President Armando Olivera told reporters on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in Tallahassee, state officials have been reassuring motorists that gasoline shortages are not imminent, despite the possible disruption of oil deliveries to the Port of New Orleans and the shutdown of refineries in the storm-impacted area. Nevertheless, Floridians are being urged to curtail their driving, especially during the upcoming Labor Day weekend.
"Just for the next couple of weeks, we need to think about where we go," Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings said on Tuesday. "Let's just plan your trips, not do a lot of running around."
We have all been watching the televised scenes of hurricane-displaced residents, many of them living in makeshift shelters or ruined houses without electricity, phone service, safe drinking water and many of the other necessities of life that most Americans take for granted. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to storm victims, and the TV footage reminds us a little bit of what life was like, however briefly, after two hurricanes blew by North Central Florida last year.
Perhaps in our empathy, the minor sacrifices that go along with voluntary conservation might not seem so burdensome. Indeed, adopting a conservation ethic will not only save us money, as energy consumers, but allow us to feel as though we are making a positive contribution to the common good.
Florida motorists use up 25 million gallons of gas a day. Most of us drive far more than we need to and make several unnecessary trips during the course of our day.
Consider car pooling to work. Or better yet, try taking a bus, cycling or even walking (save energy and fight obesity). Think about ways to consolidate daily errands into one car trip rather than several. When possible, avoid driving during peak hours when congestion is at its worst and motorists burn up gas just sitting in traffic. Before buckling in and turning the key, think: Is this trip really necessary?
Back at home, keep your thermostat at 78 degrees or warmer and set to "auto." Turn the thermostat up to 82 degrees or above when you leave the house for several hours at a time. Close your blinds or curtains to help insulate your home. Turn off room air conditioners when not in the room, don't leave lights burning in unoccupied rooms and reduce your use of pool pumps, sprinkler systems and other nonessential electric appliances.
Driving less and using less energy at home may be inconvenient, but it's nothing compared to the inconvenience visited by Katrina upon tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents in a region that just happens to be a vital chokepoint of America's energy lifeline.
In this case, less is more. Use less energy, save more money.

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