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The recently downed tower linking Juneau to the Snettisham power line is a reminder that we should practice energy conservation every day. Hats off to AEL&P for getting the towers quickly repaired when the first avalanche took out three towers in April 2008. In a short six weeks, Juneau residents were back to "normal" and there was a collective sigh of relief from high energy rates. In terms of energy conservation practices, however, there is a downside to this short time frame.
Real conservation requires a change in behavior 012809 NEWS 2 Capital City Weekly The recently downed tower linking Juneau to the Snettisham power line is a reminder that we should practice energy conservation every day. Hats off to AEL&P for getting the towers quickly repaired when the first avalanche took out three towers in April 2008. In a short six weeks, Juneau residents were back to "normal" and there was a collective sigh of relief from high energy rates. In terms of energy conservation practices, however, there is a downside to this short time frame.

Libby Sterling Photos

A detailed look of the black area in the other photo. Only minutes by helicopter from the Snettisham plant, repair crews take advantage of work days when there is low avalanche danger.


Libby Sterling Photos

The big picture view of the avalanche that is responsible for Juneau's last two power crises.


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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Story last updated at 1/28/2009 - 11:05 am

Real conservation requires a change in behavior

The recently downed tower linking Juneau to the Snettisham power line is a reminder that we should practice energy conservation every day. Hats off to AEL&P for getting the towers quickly repaired when the first avalanche took out three towers in April 2008. In a short six weeks, Juneau residents were back to "normal" and there was a collective sigh of relief from high energy rates. In terms of energy conservation practices, however, there is a downside to this short time frame.

Behaviorists maintain that it takes at least eight weeks to change behavior. With only six weeks of serious conservation under our belts, many residents reverted to old behaviors when AEL&P announced the successful repair of the towers and that the city was back on hydroelectric power.

Immediately following the April avalanche, the Cooperative Extension Service Juneau office took steps to reduce energy. One step was to reduce lighting usage. Many businesses around Juneau practiced the same technique, using only half of their light fixtures. The day after the powerline was repaired, I noticed that the office was brightly lit with every light fixture blazing. I was told that we were "celebrating" the restoration of power. Celebrating through needless consumption? That mindset speaks volumes about where we are, not only as individuals, but as a nation.

So, what's the link between prolonged energy conservation and behavior change? Implementing daily energy conservation after a life time of mindless consumption is similar to changing from a lifestyle that is sedentary to one that is active. What makes these changes so difficult is that they demand learning a new, complex pattern of behavior. Normally, behavior change requires modifying many of the small behaviors that compose an overall complex behavior. Let's take the active lifestyle as an example.

Consider the "couch potato" who does not exercise at all and, who, at the start of the New Year, makes a resolution to get into shape. This person is doomed to fail if they begin an aggressive exercise program. There will be aches and pains, shortness of breath, perhaps some nausea, and other discomforts. If, however, the exercise is broken down into small segments, the individual will be more successful. Behaviorists would suggest that instead of starting out with a daily 30 minute brisk walk, the individual begin walking for 10 minutes daily and increasing the time spent walking by, say, 5 minutes per week. Small increases, such as adding 5 minutes to the daily walking each week, are then made as the complex pattern of behavior is "shaped" toward the targeted goal.

Adhering to the lifestyle change will require a reward system. Rewards can be both extrinsic, in the form of praise from others, and intrinsic (a feeling of personal accomplishment in reaching a goal). As previously mentioned, it takes at least eight weeks of conscious practice before the routines become a habit or are ingrained into a lifestyle.

So how does all this relate to energy conservation? If we think in terms of rewards, most of us will admit that saving money on our monthly power bills is a great motivator. Individuals and families could make saving energy fun. For instance, set a goal: We will reduce household energy consumption by 2% this month. Then, create a list of ways to make it happen. For instance:

• Turn out lights when leaving a room.

• Use the microwave to make rice instead of the stovetop burner which consumes more energy.

• Plan a day of family cooking. Prepare and preserve meals for the work week.

• Limit television viewing and play board games or card games instead. Be creative.

• Turn down the thermostat at night and when you're away from home for more than 5 hours at a time

Over time, these small changes will make a difference in the household energy output and the behavioral changes will become habit. Extrinsic rewards could include a night out at the movies, ordering-in pizza, or a sleep-over for your child's friends.

If you have children, get them involved. One family told me that they taught their children to read the meter. It became a game to slow the rotations of the meter monitor. The meter is an excellent learning tool as it provides an immediate visual of how behaviors impact energy usage. Most parents will agree that children can be good motivators for behavior change when they are included as part of the solution.

Intrinsic rewards are more personal and come from within ourselves. These can be found in the pleasures felt in taking responsibility to reduce our impact on the planet - leaving the world a better place for our heirs. Only you know what motivates you.

At the time of this writing, AEL&P has issued a report that Juneau may be back on hydroelectric power by the end of January. This is good news for our household budgets, but once again, the necessary eight weeks for effective behavior change to take root has not occurred. But that doesn't mean that we must forego lessons learned. Let's continue to be mindful of our actions and make energy conservation practices a lifestyle.


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