Lights out for firms in California

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Lights out for firms in state Filed: 02/05/2001

By ROBERT JABLON

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES "Power police" prowling car dealerships to make sure outdoor lights are turned off. Acres of darkened parking lots. Fines of up to $1,000 a day. Or dutiful store owners dimming unnecessary bulbs in a megawatt-saving effort to ease California's power crunch.

Both scenarios are possible under Gov. Gray Davis' executive order last week requiring retailers to "substantially reduce" outdoor lighting during nonbusiness hours. The order, which becomes mandatory March 15, carries a potential fine of $1,000 a day.

The goal is to reduce retail outdoor lighting demand by 50 percent.

"Everybody has to do their part," Davis spokesman Roger Salazar said. "We feel that Californians will respond pretty strongly to this ... hopefully, we won't have to issue fines."

The order came amid a Stage 3 power alert that entered its 21st consecutive day Sunday and will remain in effect until at least midnight Tuesday.

Such alerts are called when energy reserves dip below 1.5 percent and set the stage for rolling blackouts, but Lorie O'Donley, a spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator, said Sunday that no rolling blackouts were predicted.

"We believe we have enough power to get us by today," she said. "We should be fine."

Davis' order exempts lighting deemed "necessary for the health and safety of the public, employees and property." But what that means in practical terms hasn't been determined, even by the retailers being required to dim the lights.

"Is it half my lights? Is it a third? I can't answer that," said Kenneth Greene, vice president and general manager of Silver Star Motor Car Co. in Thousand Oaks.

The dealership has five acres of Oldsmobile and Lexus cars, and luxury sport utility vehicles like Land Rovers and Humvees with price tags up to $100,000.

Vandalism and thefts have occurred, so outdoor lighting is important.

"Car lots have to be big users of energy," said Henry Hansel, president of the dealers at the Petaluma Auto Mall. "We are very visible. Our wares are outside, unlike a Macy's, where they have their products indoors. Our inventory is outside. We have to light it."

Hansel and Greene said they are cutting back on electricity use.

"I do want to do what's right," Greene said. "I know we'll try."

Nobody has comprehensive figures on how much electricity outdoor signs and parking lot lights consume. But Home Depot believes it alone could save enough electricity each month to power 1,800 houses, spokesman Chuck Sifuentes said.

The home improvement chain, which has 140 stores in California, began cutting back on indoor and outdoor lighting two weeks ago. The tall pylon signs used to lure freeway drivers go off at the end of the business day. An hour after a store closes, the parking lot goes dark.

Law enforcement officials say they hope businesses voluntarily comply before fines are needed.

"Enforcing it would be the last thing that we do," said Deputy R. Bottomley of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, one of 10 agencies collaborating on an enforcement plan.

Darkening auto dealerships and store parking lots could "be a help for the criminal element," said Lt. Jim Peery of the Tustin Police Department.

The city boasts blocks of auto dealerships and a gigantic shopping center. Peery said the department's 95 sworn officers might have to do extra policing if businesses darken their outdoor signs and lights.

Peery said he understands the need to conserve energy he goes around turning off lights inside the police station.

But "our jobs are complicated enough as it is with new laws," he added. "I would hope that we wouldn't add being light-bulb police."

http://www.bakersfield.com/oil/Story/302791p-302279c.html

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 05, 2001


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