Turn off the Internet!

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Published January 18, 2001 8:30PM (EST)

Read the story

As someone who worked for Westinghouse Power Generation for over 20 years, I can tell you that no one in the industry is surprised that this has happened to California. This is a state that prided itself on its "not constructed in our state" attitude of power generation. It depended on Washington and Oregon to provide it electricity, and yet at the same time made no attempt to reduce consumption. The state thinks of itself as living in the land of milk and honey with all the bells and whistles. In this era of aging power plants and population explosion, it was only a matter of time before Californians found themselves without sufficient power supplies.

-- Anonymous

One aspect of the controversy surrounding the effect of the Net on electricity consumption that has received little attention is the fact that Internet technologies are used to make more efficient use of power. We tend to think that the Net is only used to provide sites -- like Salon -- that serve up text and graphics. But a multitude of products exist for monitoring and managing electricity consumption on the Net. A large multisite enterprise can, for example, replace its old glass-domed, manually read electricity meters with Internet-connected devices that continuously publish power consumption data on the LAN. These data, in turn, are used by sophisticated software to automate turning off lights, turning down air conditioning and so on.

The primary rationale for such so-called demand-side management is to enable companies to reduce (often significant) energy costs and qualify for cheaper electricity rates -- such as by aggregating many sites into a single larger electricity bill. It does so, however, by encouraging more efficient electricity use. Nowhere have I seen any estimates of this conservation effect of using Internet technology.

-- Mark Myles

The claim that the Internet, widely viewed as responsible for the recent economic boom, is the cause of the California power crisis reminds me of the astonishing fact that budget cuts in the Park Service always result in closure of the most popular facilities, especially those in the Washington area, first.

What stronger proof could there be that the real problem is political?

-- Bear Giles

The one thing that I did not see mentioned in your recent article was that Net growth in Silicon Valley has resulted in the San Francisco Bay Area attracting new residents to the tune of 20,000 per quarter.

Now maybe my logic is slightly flawed, but I believe the power demands will increase as the houses and apartment complexes fill up faster than a politician's pockets. But this is an increase in one static area, leading to the obvious trend in power shortages, as you said, in the early evening as people go home and fire up the microwave and turn on the tube.

But this is not actually a Net growth on a national basis; these people moved here from elsewhere, causing a usage curve to expand in one area, and decline in another.

-- Launce Haught

I recently heard Gov. Davis comment that during a recent meeting of California power company executives there was absolutely no discussion of any kind of a power crisis. What has transpired since that meeting? Bush was selected as president. The power companies know that the Bush administration will not be investigating whether or not the current power crisis is bogus, so they're going full steam ahead on the privatization of the utilities, a plan which Bush has supported all along. What better way to kill several birds with one stone than to cry energy crisis? Lessen the environmental controls, drill for oil and coal, privatize the utilities and, oh yes, make Gov. Davis look ineffective. Smart move! Bush and his big-money backers get their way and the people lose once again.

-- L. Sparks

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------