Guest Editorial

Electricity Addiction: The Demand Is On Us

by Barney Day, Contributing Writer

Barnie Day

When rural electrification first came to the hills and hollows of the Blue Ridge, some of the first recipients of this wonder jammed corncobs into their new outlets to keep the “juice” from running out onto the floor.

My wife and I live in a big, rambling farmhouse built in 1904, before electricity was available in Meadows of Dan. No matter. The craving we have for it is never beyond arm’s reach now. We are junkies. We are addicted to electricity. We mainline electrons. And we let plenty of them run out onto the floor.

I’ve never counted up the light bulbs we use — I’m thinking now — four in each of four ceiling fans — eight in one bathroom — all kinds of them — big, little, clear, opaque, some are tubes, others little more than apparitions, fragile and tear-shaped — but we have them everywhere —the basement, the attic, the patio, the porches, the garage, the barn, the deck, and, of course, throughout the house — and burn enough of them to trump the Milky Way.

Gadgets feed our addictions to the “juice” —televisions and radios and sound systems, stoves, refrigerators and freezers, and coffee makers and microwaves, bread-making machines, knife sharpeners and can openers, handy-dandies that grind and chop and shred and blend and puree — scary, bladed things that emit high-pitched whines and look like they’d be good for cutting fingers off.

The pumps (five) in our house and ceiling fans (four) have become invisible. My tools compress air and cut and drill and sand and saw and plane and edge and spray; others steam wrinkles from cotton shirts and make my trouser creases sharp, and process words (these words) and print them, and sharpen pencils.

These implements of our addictions are talented and beguiling. They vacuum floors and heat and cool and circulate air, and will do the same with water, if that’s the switch I hit. Our tub has jets that soothe our bones. Our shower has jets, too — six of them. A favorite chair will stand me up or lay me down electrically — with a button press — to sleep, perhaps, my soul to keep.

A big, red, round barrel-looking thing smokes good trout for us if I add the basis of the smoke (hickory chips are wonderful, but apple wood is best), and clunky, fold-up contraptions turn out waffles, and pattern burn marks onto steaks and chops, and grill delicious, lovely sandwiches.

A quick story here: A thriving church on Deep Water Creek in the Indian Valley section of Carroll County broke up and disbanded when the first light bill hit. The roof of that church has fallen in now. Trees grow up through it. That bill for a dollar and twenty cents ($1.20) set the devil loose in that church.

Until a month ago, our electrical addictions cost us, on average, about $150 each month — not too bad, as addictions go. Or is it? The real cost is not what we’ve been paying. Sure, there is correlation between wattage consumed and how much we pay each month, but the real cost is more complicated than that — if you factor mountaintop removal and carbon dioxide emissions into the equation.

The real cost is the behavior our consumption forces on the part of our electricity provider. The real cost is the demand we make. There is a direct correlation between our electricity addiction and every ounce of mountaintop removal, a direct correlation between our consumption and every particulate of carbon dioxide emission.

A month ago, my wife and I decided to consciously change our consumption behavior. It was nothing drastic. We stopped using our clothes dryer and I put up an outside clothesline. We agreed to run the dishwasher only when it was full. And we agreed to turn off the lights when we were not using them.

I don’t know the size of our carbon footprint. It is probably huge, all things considered. I do know this. It is smaller than it used to be. We got our electric bill yesterday — eighty-seven bucks ($87).

And there are a couple of other things I know: Power companies don’t build power plants for lack of something better to do. They build power plants to meet demand, and that demand is us — all of us.

Barnie Day is a former state legislator who resides in Meadows of Dan, Virginia.


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