Californians revert to clotheslines, fans

By Margie Mason Associated Press Writer
Tuesday May 29, 2001

Gearing up for rolling blackouts, people are trying to save power by shutting down appliances 


OAKLAND – Paul Goettlich’s condo in the Oakland hills features vaulted ceilings and skylights, a sweeping view of San Francisco’s bay and state-of-the-art appliances. 

With the power crisis in full tilt, his dryer sits unused while he hangs clothes, sheets and towels on a wooden rack in the garage. 

“Maybe somebody doesn’t want to see somebody else’s underwear or bras hanging out,” Goettlich says. “But, hey, that’s life.” 

As the state gears up for rolling blackouts and hefty energy bills this summer, many Californians are changing their habits. The result: Surging sales of everything from low-energy light bulbs to fans to evaporative coolers that blow misty air. 

The Orchard Supply Hardware store a few miles down the road from Goettlich’s condo is having a hard time keeping clotheslines and retractable drying racks in stock. 

At the The Home Depot store in Colma, about 10 miles south of San Francisco, energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs are hot sellers, along with a $40 device called a Power Planner that’s said to cut energy use by appliances like refrigerators. 

At the Wal-Mart in the Southern California suburb of Brea, customers are buying blackout supplies along with fans and low-energy light bulbs. Flashlights, camping lanterns and oil lamps also are popular, according to manager Rebecca Smith. 

“We’ve quadrupled our fan sales this year, and it’s not even summer,” Smith said. “It doesn’t seem to matter what kind. People are buying all of them.” 

The rolling blackouts are proving a retail bonanza for some out-of-state companies, like St. Louis-based Emerson, which is selling twice as many ceiling fans in California than in any other state. 

“They’re energy efficient and use less electricity than a 100-watt bulb,” explains Emerson spokesman Walt Sharp. “They can make a room feel about seven degrees cooler without air conditioning by circulating the air. They can save up to 40 percent when used with air conditioning.” 

Industrial-sized floor fans — used in manufacturing areas and large warehouses — also are a hot commodity in California, he said. 

At Walnut-based Lights of America, sales of energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs have increased 700 percent since last year. And with state rebates and incentives for consumers to switch to the new bulbs, sales are expected to continue soaring, said Brian Halliwell, vice president of marketing sales. 

Most bulbs average from $6 to $10, with 50-watt compact fluorescent bulbs providing the same amount of light as 300-watt halogens, Halliwell said. 

The bulbs do, however, have a noticeable blue tinge, compared to most regular incandescent bulbs, said Bob Aldrich of the California Energy Commission. But the color can be changed or softened by using different lamp shades, he said. 

“Just about any light use that’s out there will take a compact fluorescent light,” Aldrich said. “People should be more worried about saving energy.” 

Shopping the light bulb display at The Home Depot in Colma, customer Linda Shintaku said she’s exploring all her options for conserving energy this summer. 

“We lowered the thermostat, and we’re trying not to turn lights on in rooms we’re not in,” Shintaku said. “I try to wash clothes at night during low-peak hours.” 

Energy experts note that homeowners can make the biggest dent in their power bills by switching to more efficient models of major appliances. 

But despite the advice and an array of rebate programs, Home Depot manager Jeff Benefield says consumers aren’t yet flocking in to replace energy-sucking appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers. People who are in the market for big appliances ask about Energy Star ratings, which bring rebates of up to $75, he noted. 

The new vogue for conservation has some ecology-conscious Californians shaking their heads. Berkeley resident Leona Benten has been hanging her clothes outside to dry long before the power crisis came along and she’s hoping the energy crisis will push others to change their habits and their attitudes. 

“It takes like two minutes,” Benten said. “I think that people have succumbed to incredible amounts of advertisements, and if it’s mechanized, it’s better.”