Are we saving energy by changing clocks?

March 10, 2007|by GEORGE MICHAEL

Do you remember hearing much about the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Public Law No. 109-58, 119 Statute 594? You should have been paying attention. To start with, be sure to move your clocks forward by one hour Saturday night.

Daylight saving time arrives three weeks early this year. This is due to the new Energy Policy Act, a law passed by Congress two years ago that sought to address our critical energy needs. Really? Changing the day we start daylight savings time is a significant way to solve our energy crunch? Leave it to Congress to be on top of really important solutions to national problems.

What daylight saving time does, of course, is simply transfer an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening. Congress was thinking of making a law that would make the sun shine for two more hours a day but were stumped on how to get the Earth and sun to cooperate. Maybe we could move Congress to Argentina during our winter months here and summers there to make them feel as if they were making a difference.


Daylight saving time was created during World War I and lasted for two years to help save energy. It probably impacted energy consumption in 1918. America was moving from primarily an agrarian society to an urban one. Farmers usually work from sun up to sun down, but city folks tend to sleep in later and stay up later. Turning the lights on an hour later each evening may have accomplished something 90 years ago. Life was different. But with work schedules today, including shift-work and flex schedules, the energy benefit of changing our clocks seems negligible.

Daylight saving time (DST) was re-instituted for three years during World War II but was dropped after the war was over, at least on a national scale. In 1966, it became the norm across the U.S. with a starting date on the last Sunday in April and ending on the last Sunday in October for a total of 26 weeks of DST.

During the energy crisis in 1974 (do you remember the gas lines then?), DST was shifted to the first Sunday in January. What a disaster that was! Talk about being in the dark - in more ways than one. It was bad enough the children waited in the dark for their school buses, but adding this hour for three more months was unacceptable to the public. And nothing was gained by an extra hour in the evening with only nine to 10 hours of total daylight to work with. The outcry about this fiasco brought a quick end to the experiment.

But Congress wouldn't give up. In 1987, the date for beginning DST was moved to the first Sunday in April with the ending date left at the end of October. This made DST 30 weeks long. Now, the new law will not only add three weeks at the start of DST, but adds a week at the end, moving the start of standard time to the first Sunday in November. We will be up to 34 weeks total of DST. Standard time is not much of a "standard" anymore with only 18 weeks left for "regular time."

Just when our kiddies were starting to see glimpses of sunlight in recent days waiting along their driveways and roads, this law makes sunrise on Monday, March 12 the same time it was on Jan. 21. It's back to the "dark ages" for the students.

The Energy Policy Act included many other goodies to address our energy needs. In fact, a whole boatload of government-directed energy initiatives was included. Things such as tax credits for politically correct choices such as hybrid cars, tax deductions for making commercial buildings more energy efficient, support for "clean coal" projects, increasing the amount of ethanol consumers will be required to use in their cars and trucks, providing government subsidies for wind energy and ocean wave energy projects, new studies on nuclear reactor designs and more tax breaks for those making energy conservation improvements to their homes, as well as incentives for oil companies getting oil out of the Gulf of Mexico.

In other words, this law is a whole grab bag of goodies stuffed with a little pork for everyone. This is what has passed for responsible leadership in Washington in recent years. Laws have to be packaged in such a way in order to ensure broad-based support for a law to pass. Congresspersons can go home and brag, highlighting their favorite part of a bill and how they worked hard to address these critical needs.

Time will tell if the bill actually benefits the public at large. Much of it is initiatives and enterprises that would develop naturally in an unregulated market if they truly benefited the public. But Congress feels compelled to do something about the energy crisis it helped to create in the first place.

There is one thing the bill definitely accomplishes. It mandates lots of new studies by our federal government. It will create a lot of jobs in the Department of Energy to monitor, analyze and develop massive amounts of paperwork about our energy situation, enough paperwork to start a number of large bonfires.

That might contribute to our energy needs as much as starting DST three weeks early.

George Michael is a Williamsport resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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