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State Aims to Cut Electricity Use

Earlier summer work shifts offered in an effort to ease strain on power system during peak hours.

By David Rohn INDIANAPOLIS STAR June 12, 2000

State employees in Indianapolis are being asked to come to work early and leave early to save energy this summer.

Skeptics say that won't do any good if those workers go home and turn up the air conditioning or turn on other appliances.

But Indianapolis Power & Light Co. isn't dismissing the initiative, which starts today. At least it highlights the need to conserve during peak summer demand periods, says IPL spokeswoman Marni Lemons.

City government officials are pondering whether to follow the state's example, said Steve Campbell, a spokesman for Mayor Bart Peterson.

No other employers contacted are considering changing normal working hours, but most have other summer contingency plans. They remember how close Indiana came to contending with rolling blackouts to save power during heat waves the past two summers.

With more hot and dry weather on the way, there will be heavy demand for electricity and reduced power output at coal-fired generators that are cooled by river water.

Gov. Frank O'Bannon said most state agencies in Indianapolis will open at 6:30 a.m. Employees can leave by midafternoon, when temperatures and energy use peak. The program is voluntary, so enough workers are expected to stay on duty to keep offices open until 5 p.m.

The public should be able to transact business at some offices in the Indiana Government Center as early as 6:30 a.m., said Cheryl Reed, a spokeswoman for O'Bannon. However, she added, it's best to telephone before coming in that early.

"People and computers generate a lot of heat," said Glenn Lawrence, commissioner of the state Department of Administration. "If we can reduce the number of people inside the buildings who are using computers and other equipment, we'll be able to keep the offices at a reasonable temperature while still cutting back on cooling."

Glenn Pratt, an environmentalist who used to work at the state and federal environmental agencies, called the state's plan "another marshmallow."

He said it extends the overall time that state offices are open and ignores that state workers who get home early in the afternoon might turn up air conditioners and turn on televisions or computers.

"It would make a lot more sense to have cleaning people come in during working hours, instead of at night," he said.

But Reed said the state's goal is to cut demand at peak times. Having cleaning crews work during the day wouldn't help accomplish that.

The early hours are just an initial step by the state to help avert peak-load problems. Additional measures would be taken if utilities run into trouble, she added.

Indiana utilities can save even more through contracts with some industrial and commercial clients. The contracts allow power reductions on hot summer afternoons.

International Truck and Engine Co. has agreed to the power cuts.

On an hour's notice, IPL can shut down two-thirds of the scrap-metal melting operations at International subsidiary Indianapolis Casting Corp. In return, the firm gets reduced rates, said Tom Page, a spokesman for International.

"We are doing it because, Number One, we want to help the city out," he said. "And, Number Two, if we suffer a brownout, it could severely damage our furnaces."

Eli Lilly and Co., the city's largest employer, also has contingency plans if IPL calls for cuts.

Lilly will start by dimming lights in common areas such as the lobby, said spokeswoman Joan Todd. It will boost thermostats and shift power-intensive operations, such as running dishwashers in the cafeteria, away from peak times. That can reduce use of electricity by 10 percent to 15 percent.

If more cuts are needed, nonessential lights and computers would be turned off and thermostats turned up even higher, Todd said. That would bring energy savings of about 30 percent.

Indianapolis Public Schools has signed up for IPL's curtailment program for the second summer in a row, said Steve Young, director of facilities management for the school system. It allows the utility to cut power on hot days.

That usually means turning off air conditioning at noon, he said. Because summer school ends an hour later, that's not a problem.

IPL estimates it can save 90 megawatts of electricity through the power curtailment options for large commercial and industrial customers, Lemons said.

Utility officials say 250 to 330 average-size houses can be powered with a megawatt of electricity. Lemons estimated that customers shaved 200 megawatts off the utility's load through extraordinary conservation efforts at the peak of last summer's crises.

"Their conservation efforts made the difference," she said.

Cinergy, another utility facing blackouts last summer, has stepped up efforts to encourage industrial users to allow planned power reductions.

The utility has talked 350 industrial and commercial users into joining a power-sharing program that should shave 440 megawatts off its peak load demand, said Jim Willis, vice president for field customer services.

Seven major Cinergy customers also have contracts allowing their power to be interrupted, reducing the potential peak load by another 320 megawatts.

Environmentalists have criticized utilities and state regulators for favoring temporary curtailment over long-term conservation.

Cinergy has continued its overall conservation efforts, said spokeswoman Angeline Protogere. But with electric rates declining, conservation no longer is as cost-effective.

Chris Williams, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition, has a different view.

"The market is all based on supply, and efficiency has taken a backslide," he said. "When we talk about the environment, energy efficiency is the most economic and environmentally beneficial program there is."

Williams said he has a solar panel on his roof that is plugged into IPL's power grid.

On sunny days when his refrigerator compressor is not running, Williams says his electricity meter runs backwards.

"It never runs as fast backwards as it runs when it is going forward," he added, "but when it does, it means I'm producing more power than my house is using, and I'm selling it back on the power grid."


-- (, June 12, 2000

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