Power crunch evokes memories of the ’70s

Say "Seventies" and people think of flippy Farrah hairdos and dreadful disco tunes. We survived those indignities and also some real hardships. We waited in lines to buy gasoline on odd or even days. We bundled up, weatherstripped and learned to keep the speedometer at 55.

While the Bee Gees were in our ears, energy was on our minds, from the Arab nations’ 1973 ban on oil exports to the United States to the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor.

One frigid December in that decade of malaise, the powers that be told us to turn off Christmas lights. At the time, my dad was an executive at the Washington Water Power Co., the Spokane utility now called Avista Corp.

As I write this, my parents’ house is lit up by white lights on two evergreens planted in pots on both sides of their front door. Those tiny lights were the sticking point of their ’70s spat.

My dad wanted them turned off, although he admitted they used precious little power. Like it or not, he had to set an energy-saving example. I seem to recall my mom using the word "ridiculous."

For a few days, the trees went dark. But when neighbors’ homes started looking like Snoopy’s doghouse in "A Charlie Brown Christmas," our trees were switched back on.

I was reminded of this on Friday when Gov. Gary Locke, anticipating deep cold and worried about tight energy supplies, asked us to conserve as much electricity and natural gas as possible.

Locke suggested we only turn on holiday lights from 8 p.m. till bedtime; turn heaters down to 66 degrees and wear sweaters; use microwave rather than conventional ovens; use one appliance at a time; and use as little electricity as possible during the peak hours of 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 4 to 8 p.m.

If you drove past my house last weekend, you know I proved myself to be more my mother’s child than my father’s. The trees on my porch stayed on. So did the crazy blue lights my staple-gunning kids put up against their mom’s will.

By mid-December, we’re down to eight hours of daylight. That’s 16 hours of darkness. I’d be as blue as my tacky Christmas lights if I had to turn them off. Even my latest Snohomish County PUD bill suggests lights aren’t a big deal.

In homes using electric heat, which I don’t have, heating gobbles half the energy used, according to the PUD’s Current Events newsletter. Twenty-five percent of electricity goes toward water heating, followed by refrigeration, cooking, clothes drying and lighting.

I’ll try to conserve in other ways, but my Christmas lights stay. It was better than hearing from a reformed Scrooge on Christmas morning when I read Wednesday that the Northwest Power Planning Council’s John Harrison said: "Christmas lights are not a problem. Go ahead and use them."

I have news for Mr. Harrison. I’m baking cookies in my gas oven, too, and roasting a turkey on Christmas Day.

And all that business about peak hours? They’re the only hours many of us have to cook, bathe, do our families’ laundry and catch up on TV news. I have enough to feel guilty about without fretting over the shower I take before going to the office.

That said, though, this power hog will have to change her ways. A 33 percent rate increase from the PUD and increased natural gas costs can be pretty persuasive.

I guess I’ll turn into my father after all, following kids around the house switching off lights, radios, TV’s and the computer.

So we have a new man for the White House. It’s feeling an awful lot like the Jimmy Carter ’70s.

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