Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Energy saving ideas - Sliding Scale electric bills

Electricity, the mainstay of modern life, is a new phenomenon. Here in the "developing" world (the Dominican Republic is considered a "middle income" nation in contrast to Haiti, consider one of the "least developed" nations , the majority of the population lives below the poverty level in the United States. The electric companies are mindful of their clients.

They have a sliding scale for payment based on consumption. It is a program that the United States would do well to emulate. Why not a progressive tax on electric consumption?

The bulk of the population here did not have it a generation ago. The national grid is non-existent. Electricity service 24/7 is an unexpected luxury: most new buildings or construction in the tourist areas have their own "plantas" or generators. At the very least, they will have a system of inverters, battery back up banks that will run a few lights, perhaps a fan and the refrigerator on an emergency basis for a few hours.

I live in a section of town called Gazcue, an area of former elegance of large homes and streets lined with old trees, next to the Colonial Zone, the oldest city in the Americas, est. circa 1598. A few blocks away is the National Palace so my neighborhood always has electricity.

The nation is just figuring out how to protect the electric supply, how to cut off the lines that are illegally spliced into it. In the country, you will see small wooden houses with dirt floors, and a television connected to an extension cord, connected to the house next door, and next door, leading eventually to a wire hooked into the tall electric pole. The government has just passed a law making the theft of electricity illegal. Since that was not explicit and only a fool would pay for a state provided service if there was a way not to. There are now some private electric companies which have better service but actually involve meters and bills.

After the first electric light, the Dominicans buy a "third world" washing machine, which has a tumbler for washing, another alongside for extracting. You fill the tub with soapy water, it runs and spins, then you extract the clothes, put them into the side tumbler which extracts the soapy water, then fill the tub with rinse water, load the clothes, then extract again, then hang the clothes on the nearest barbed wire fence. It is certainly more labor intensive than an American washer/dryer but certainly less so than taking them three miles down to river to beat them on rocks or washing them by hand. IIt is also a lot rougher on the clothes: holes seem to appear out of nowhere.

Here's how my April bill looked (the peso is now at 32= $1 US if you wish to convert):

Basic service 108.65
75 kWh x RD 3.12 234.00
125 kWh x RD 3.12 234.00
100 kWh x RD 4.71 390.00
100 kWh x RD 7.00 700.00
100 Kwh x RD 7.00 700.00
100 kWh x RD 7.00 700.00
69 kWh x RD 7.00 700.00

Total 3,785.65 (US 118.30)

Then the temperature started to really rise in July and I put on the old air conditioner in the middle of the day and went to the bedroom to read. Look at what happened to the electric bill.

Basic service 108.65
800 kWh x RD 8.57 7,370.20

Total 7,478.85 (US 233.71)

So you can be assured that I started rushing around changing my light bulbs to low consumption compact fluorescents, and set about to find an electrician to deal with the suspicious whirring noise that comes from my freezer, take a look at that strange plastic heating unit that is attached to the shower head which is supposed to heat the water, but doesn't.

And to solve the mystery of why I received a shock when my arm touched the metal cage outside the window surrounding the air conditioner. No mystery there, there is some sort of electrical leakage. The mystery is why the pigeons still want to nest in it.

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