With Juneau's Power Restored, Conservation Drops Juneau, Alaska, was forced into radical electricity conservation earlier this year when electrical transmission lines were destroyed in an avalanche. Residents managed to cut their electrical consumption by more than 30 percent. Now that the repairs have been completed, usage has crept back up.
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With Juneau's Power Restored, Conservation Drops

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With Juneau's Power Restored, Conservation Drops

With Juneau's Power Restored, Conservation Drops

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

As you may remember, residents of Juneau, Alaska have taken a crash course in conservation. Last spring, a series of avalanches obliterated the city's main power line. The cost of electricity quadrupled overnight, and Alaska's capital city quickly cut its power consumption by a third.

It's one of the most dramatic cases of energy conservation on record. Since the power line was repaired in June, usage has crept back up, but as John Ryan of member-station KTOO reports, Juneau's short-term crisis appears to have had a lasting effect.

JOHN RYAN: Marcia Buck(ph) is a retired school administrator. She also knows her way around a chainsaw.

(Soundbite of chainsaw)

RYAN: On this warm August afternoon, she's got her electric chainsaw plugged in to the side of her home in Juneau's Mendenhall Valley.

Ms. MARCIA BUCK: Neighbors give me their scrap lumber. So I'm cutting the scrap lumber apart to use in my wood stove for the winter so I can heat more with wood and less with electricity.

RYAN: She's one of many Juneau residents whose electricity-saving habits have outlasted the city's six-week energy crisis. Buck turned off her electric heat during the energy emergency. By relying on her wood stove, turning off lights and power strips and unplugging electronic gadgets, she was able to cut her electricity use in half.

Ms. BUCK: The front part of my house was always warm using the wood stove, but my office area's in the back. So I wore a lot of clothes.

RYAN: It wasn't uncommon for Juneau households to cut their power consumption by 40 or 50 percent. Businesses and government offices also embraced conservation to a degree, but the biggest savings happened inside people's homes.

Sterling and Lindsay Salisbury(ph) cut their kilowatt hours by 75 percent. The young couple installed tiny LED lights throughout their month-to-month rental home. They shortened their showers, and they turned off their heat entirely.

Mr. STERLING SALISBURY: Well, we still conserve. I mean even to this day it's nowhere to the extreme of what we were with like the 45 degrees inside. But actually there towards the end it was just a way of life. We got used to living like that, and it was kind of almost a change to have to go back.

RYAN: The Salisburys have gone back to using their dishwasher, but Sterling Salisbury says they still take short showers and they only turn lights on when they desperately need to.

Scott Willis with Alaska Electric Light and Power says most of Juneau's electricity savings came from new behaviors, not new technology.

Mr. SCOTT WILLIS (Alaska Electric Light and Power): People were doing a lot of very inconvenient things. They knew that this was going to be a relatively short-term crisis, so they thought to themselves, I can do without baking in the oven for the next three months.

RYAN: Willis says he expected consumption to rebound as soon as the city's hydropower connection was restored and prices fell back to about the national average. Instead, demand only rose gradually, and it remains about 10 percent below last year's levels. That's despite an exceptionally cold and wet summer this year.

Alan Meier is an energy efficiency expert with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. He says the big lesson of Juneau's energy experiment is that changing Americans' energy habits is possible.

Mr. ALAN MEIER (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory): You know, we shouldn't be quite so gloomy. If we really want to save energy, it can happen.

RYAN: Meier says energy consumers can change their own habits quickly, but he says it takes them longer to adopt new technologies.

Mr. MEIER: I don't think people were able to make any significant investments in efficiency improvement in that short period.

RYAN: Meier says the lesson here is that widespread adoption of energy-efficient technologies might require a longer bout of high energy prices. For NPR News, I'm John Ryan in Juneau, Alaska.

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