Page One

Sierra Club suggests energy crisis solutions

By Tracy Chocholousek Special to the Daily Planet
Monday April 30, 2001

Tuning up appliances, opening or closing vents and swapping energy-eating incandescent light bulbs with compact florescent ones are just a few ways Berkeley residents can reduce utility costs in light of California’s energy crisis, a Sierra Club panel said Saturday. 

Other ideas included windmills at Cesar Chavez Park, solar panels on southern facing Berkeley homes and public utility ownership.  

Under the florescent glare of overhead lighting, The Northern Alameda County Chapter of the Sierra Club hosted the panel discussion of energy experts and about 25 community members at its Berkeley office. 

Four speakers presented insights and suggestions toward more effective energy usage. They included, Sierra Club Senior Lobbyist in Sacramento, Bill Magavern, who gave an in-depth overview of the current situation.  

Other panelists included Mark Gorrell, a local architect and member of the Berkeley Ecology Center. Gorrell offered ideas on how to maximize renewable energy sources and minimize energy costs.  

Graham Brownstein from The Utility Reform Network, a California consumer advocacy organization, encouraged community education, involvement, and action. Sierra Club energy conservation expert Paul Craig presented the facts on individual cost-cutting tactics. 

Though environmentalists have emphasized conservation for decades, today’s crisis calls for more proactive solutions. Conservation alone will not end the blackouts that will be rolling in around June 1, according to the Notice of Public Participation Hearings put out by the California Public Utilities Commission last week. Instead, being more efficient and integrating new, sometimes simple, sometimes costly systems into everyday life is the existing challenge. 

“Efficiency is the absolute best investment we can use to get us through this problem,” Brownstein said. “It’s about making the energy you’ve got available, go further.” 

Long term solutions in renewable resources, though discussed, were not the primary focus of the panel. The speakers suggested methods the individual could use to take immediate action against the rising costs of energy. 

Simple tune-up and the cleaning of home appliances like the refrigerator, furnace, and air conditioning system can take dollars off of the monthly PG&E bill. 

Gorrell suggested ways to actually make the power meter go backwards.  

“If you’re willing to spend about 10 minutes a day opening and closing vents. You could do it for free,” Gorrell said. 

Through the use of insulation and solar energy, Gorrell demonstrated how to make a solar water heater for as little as $25. By wrapping an insulated blanket around a heater, reducing the thermostat, and repairing leaky faucets anyone can play a part in lowering electric bills.  

Other helpful hints included replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact florescent ones. One can find florescent bulbs which use only 11 watts of power and produce 60 watts of light at a very affordable cost, Gorrell said. 

Making the transition from the 60 cent incandescent bulb to the $3 florescent bulb is just the beginning. Though the purchasing of newer, more energy efficient appliances may be expensive, they will gradually pay for themselves through more affordable electric bills.  

“Either reduce your demand and pay for (the cost) up front, or pay it in the utility bills,” Brownstein said. 

The simple incentive of lower PG&E bills should encourage more frugal usage.  

“Prices are high and the blackouts are coming. There isn’t the slightest doubt that there will be thousands of mega watts which simply aren’t available,” panelist Craig said.  

Renewable energy sources are the ultimate goal in terms of the future. 

Gorrell suggested wind mills in Cesar Chavez Park, and solar panels a top the thousands of south facing Berkeley homes. All the panelists agreed that taking back public power over the utility companies and incorporating individual energy saving systems into residences are the means by which the energy crisis can be appeased. 

PG&E’s proposed “rate design” could mean still higher utility bills. The proposal going before the California Public Utilities Commission offers an incentive to conserving consumers. It states, "Residential customers who use more than the exempt level of 130 percent baseline in any month will be subject to surcharges that get bigger the more energy they use."  

The CPUC is encouraging attendance to a series of public hearings. All panelists agreed that community action is imperative. 

“We’re not doing our job. The public has got to be involved in running this country or the guys who have been, will run it into the ground,” Brownstein said.  

The nearest public hearing scheduled nearest Berkeley residents will be held in Oakland at the Caltrans District 4 Auditorium at 7 p.m. on May 10.  

For more information, contact the Sierra Club at 848-0800 or PG&E’s Smarter Energy Line at 1-800-933-9555. Or go to their websites:,