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Coalition sees a need for energy conservation and reliable sources

WILLMAR -- Phantom load -- power drawn by appliances such as TVs and DVD players when not in operation -- may be unnecessarily adding kilowatt-hours to your electric bill and increasing your carbon footprint.

Electric consumers can reduce their phantom load and greenhouse gas emissions, however, by plugging those appliances into surge protectors and then turning off the surge protector, or just by unplugging the appliance.

"If people use power surge protectors or unplug everything when they're done using them, that would save 10 percent of the electrical load in the United States,'' said Christina Pierson, executive director of Partners for Affordable Energy.

Partners for Affordable Energy is a Minnesota coalition encouraging policies that create low-cost, reliable electricity.

Electric customers could also reduce their energy costs by having their utility company perform an energy audit at their home or business.

"There's a nominal cost, but usually the utility ends up giving you enough hints and rebates and other suggestions that there is a short payback on doing an energy audit,'' Pierson said. "You never know what kinds of things are going on in your facility that can help you lower your energy costs and be more efficient than in a time of recession. It's important for people to save costs. That's one way to do it.''

Pierson said Minnesota "has some pretty aggressive energy-efficiency and conservation rules in law that we'd like utilities to try to get their consumers to do.''

However, population growth is predicted to result in a 0.08 percent annual increase in energy demand, down from a previous growth projection of 2 percent a year starting in 2010.

There are some appliances that electric consumers can't unplug, like refrigerators, but other appliances maybe should be.

She said a plasma TV -- depending on size -- uses from 5 to 8 times more electricity than a conventional TV.

"A plasma TV turned off and plugged into the wall takes more electricity than your refrigerator does, a huge drain,'' she said.

"We hope we're able to get consumers to use these power surge protectors, to have energy-efficient appliances, to use CFL lighting, LED lights, that we hope we can decrease growth ... '' Pierson said. "If this is an extended recession, it could help utilities meet their goals on that.''

Pierson brought the coalition's message of conservation and the need for reliable energy sources to the Thursday noon meeting of the Public Policy Committee of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

The coalition supports collaborative efforts from all sectors of the economy to increase energy efficiency, reduce the impacts on natural resources and find solutions to energy challenges.

According to the coalition, Minnesota leaders have taken steps to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions and to increase the use of renewable energy. The coalition says costs are rising. Inflation is at a 17-year high, largely due to increased energy costs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The coalition says energy costs have a ripple effect across the economy and are eating away at business profits and individual and family budgets.

The coalition says having a low-cost, reliable supply of electricity is critical to Minnesota's economic growth and creating quality jobs.

Pierson said the coalition promotes having the right mix of existing generation and renewable energy sources. She said the coalition is open to those kinds of discussions and working with organizations such as the Citizens Energy Group of Willmar, which is developing a nonpartisan, comprehensive national energy policy.

"Willmar has been very engaged in this issue,'' said Pierson. "They have enough community leaders that are paying attention. We're trying to educate people.''