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Valley Perspective

A Tool for California's Hour of Need

April 01, 2001|BRAD SHERMAN | Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) represents portions of the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County

Who doesn't look forward to the long days of summer when, after a full day at the office, the sun has yet to set as the car pulls into the driveway.

But what makes the days seem longer--an extra hour of sunlight in the evening--can also mean reduced electricity usage, according to studies done by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the California Energy Commission.

The Transportation Department report on the benefits of daylight saving time found a 1% reduction in electricity use across the country. Preliminary reports from the state Energy Commission found that the savings locally could be nearly 2% when daylight saving time was in effect.

For this reason I have introduced the Energy Time Adjustment Authorization Act (House Rule 704), which would allow California to adjust its daylight saving time rules during the energy crisis.

Under federal law, states cannot adjust their use of daylight saving time. The bill would allow Sacramento, not Washington, to determine the best use of daylight saving time and implement it.

For example, the state could "double" daylight saving time from the first Sunday in May until the Sunday before Labor Day by moving clocks forward an additional hour. Not only would this mean saving energy, but it would do so at the right time.

From 5 to 8 p.m. is a peak usage time, when people come home and businesses are still operating. With double daylight saving time, when people got home they would not need to turn on all the lights in their home until 9 p.m. They would just need to raise the blinds.

Double daylight saving time would not force people to drive to school or work in darkness in the morning. It would be light by 7 a.m. in May, June and July and by 7:20 a.m. in August. The sun would set between 8:30 and 9 p.m. These summer months are when California is going to face the greatest electrical demand because on the warmest days air-conditioners will run at full blast.

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Using daylight saving time to conserve electricity is hardly a new idea. Ben Franklin first "whimsically" proposed daylight saving time in a 1784 essay. The United States first used it during World War I, when it also was implemented in many European countries to conserve the fuel needed to produce electricity. Daylight saving time was again used during World War II and was observed year-round from Feb. 2, 1942, to Sept. 30, 1945. Year-round daylight saving time was used because of the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s.

Then as now, the benefits can be substantiated. The Transportation Department studied daylight saving time in 1975 and found that it saved lives and prevented traffic injuries. It allows more people to travel home from work in the daylight, which is much safer than darkness. And, according to the study, except for the months of November and December, daylight saving time does not increase the morning hazard for those going to school or work. Even in those two months, using daylight saving time has a positive impact on crime and automobile safety.

According to the report, there was a 0.7% reduction in fatal motor vehicle accidents in March and April 1974, when daylight saving time was in effect, compared to a non-daylight saving time period of March and April 1973. An estimated 50 lives were saved and 2,000 injuries were avoided during this two month period.

No single solution will bridge the gap between electricity supply and demand. It will take a number of steps and a variety of approaches to meet conservation needs. Adjusting our use of daylight saving time is one step. Certainly, the federal government should allow California to use this tool during our hour of need.

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