Higher Energy Costs are Here to Stay

With all the talk lately about energy prices I'm reminded of WaterWorld's Energy Efficiency Forum for the municipal water industry ...

by James Laughlin

With all the talk lately about energy prices I'm reminded of WaterWorld's Energy Efficiency Forum for the municipal water industry, which I helped organize back in the late ‘90s. While the event never drew a large crowd, those who attended were dedicated to the subject of energy conservation.

When the sessions ended, the audience wouldn't leave – instead they broke into small groups and continued the discussion. Having attended other events where the rooms emptied quickly, it was amazing to see their consuming interest in the topic.

Still, in 2000, the last year of the event, a water utility manager told me he couldn't justify the expense associated with upgrading his systems, given the low cost of power at the time. If memory serves, he was paying in the range of 3-4 cent cents per kilowatt hour as a large-scale user.

This was before 9/11 and at a time when the economy was perking along pretty good. I wonder how much he's paying for power today and if he ever got around to replacing his out-dated systems?

I'm reminded of the tale of the Arkansas Traveler. In brief: "Can't you see that your roof is leaking? Why don't you fix it?" "Well, right now it's rainin' too hard, and when the sun's a-shinin', why, it don't leak!"

I imagine those attendees who fought the good fight and upgraded their energy-intensive systems back then are looking pretty smart today. Those who waited are probably wondering where they're going to find the money in these tight economic times.

The current high price for a barrel of oil may come down by the end of summer but the good old days of cheap energy are behind us. As an industry and a nation, we must change with the times. I truly believe SUVs will go the way of the dinosaurs within a few years. The fully-loaded service body utility vehicle lumbering around town filled with parts, tools and other equipment might soon follow.

I stopped at a local park recently during the lunch hour. I'd been there only a few minutes when a diesel-powered municipal truck pulled in beside me. The driver proceeded to eat his lunch with the engine running and the air conditioner on. I was annoyed by the noise and stink of the truck, but also concerned that he was burning my tax dollars while he munched on his sandwich.

Despite my interest in energy efficiency, I'm no saint. I drive with a lead foot, I keep my house cool with the AC cranking, I almost never turn off the lights when I leave a room and my wife drives an SUV. And while I've dusted off my bicycle, the chances of my riding it to work are pretty slim.

You might say I'm a typical power-hungry American. I know that has to change – both on a personal and national level.

I'm sad to say the proceedings of the Energy Efficiency Forum are no longer available. Fortunately, there is a wealth of information on energy efficiency available in the Internet. One place to start is the Consortium For Energy Efficiency, www.cee1.org, and its National Municipal Water and Wastewater Facility Initiative. Another worthwhile stop is the California Energy Commission site, www.energy.ca.gov/process/water/index.html, with its focus on Water/Wastewater Efficiency.

James Laughlin, Editor

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