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The Commons
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Jonathan Cohen/Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Voices / Viewpoint

I'm leaving on all the lights

'Don't waste power' used to be secret code for 'don't waste money.' Not anymore, thanks to the Vermont Public Service Board.

Rick Hege, when not turning on lights in his house, works in his family business, Shepherd’s Flock, with his wife, Kathy, and as a civic volunteer.

Originally published in The Commons issue #398 (Wednesday, March 8, 2017).



When you have been on this earth for over a half a century, you can expect assorted traumatic events over that period of time, events that make you reexamine all your most basic beliefs.

The only thing left to do is to get your act together and move on as best you can. A bit of therapy can also help you deal with the new truths.

The powers-that-be decided that there was no such thing as a brontosaurus, and that news destroyed my concept of the world as we know it. Then, they decided that maybe there was a brontosaurus. What and whom is a person supposed to believe?

And then, Pluto. Not a planet? Say what? How dare you mess with my entire vision of the solar system? Meanwhile, they continue to use Pluto as a volleyball: it is, it isn’t, it is.

More recently, the powers-that-be blindsided me with the triceratops. It exists, it does not, it does.

I am already looking for a professional to help me deal with these incredible assaults on universal truths. I am really having a difficult time, as they dispute everything I believed was true.

But, just as I think I am beginning to cope with changes that suggested everything I learned as a child is, or might be, false, the Public Service Board of Vermont has managed to tip me over the edge.

* * *

Another universal understanding is an experience we all must share.

You’re a youngster, running all about doing youngster things in the house. You come running out of a room, and a big and authoritative voice invades your space. Maybe two voices.

“Turn off the lights — you are wasting power.”

You stop dead in your tracks, run back through two, three, four rooms, and shut off the lights that you really did not need on in the first place.

The really cool thing is that those voices may not have come from someone who was even somewhere where they could see that you failed to turn the lights off. That is parental instinct and, when I became a parent, I discovered I had that awesome power to just know when my children had not turned off the lights.

In time, you learned to be part of a civilized society. You did not turn on lights you did not need and you, most certainly, turned lights off when you exited the room. You made sure that your children and grandchildren were informed of that universal truth. (“Don’t waste power!”)

In the days of the brontosaurus (the time in which I grew up) the term, “Don’t waste power” was actually secret code for “don’t waste money.” Learning that secret code meant that you were ready for adulthood.

My wife and I have been poster children for “don’t waste power.” We installed real fluorescent light fixtures in our home long before it became cool. This, of course, was followed by compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

We use very little power even though we run a business that requires several electric motors and many lights. A couple of years ago we bought into a solar field at the old Townshend landfill as, since we are about to retire, that is one bill we wouldn’t have to worry about.

* * *

Enter the Public Service Board and its recent decision to make power “credits” a “use it or lose it” situation.

In brief, I have $200 worth of credit with Green Mountain Power, and in about two months, that credit will start to disappear.

Two universal truths are at odds with each other: “be frugal, don’t waste power, conserve” and “always get your money’s worth.”

Just what is a person to do?

Well, that “always get your money’s worth” wins out. We invested the money to generate the power, and we are not inclined to support GMP via our investment. It is rather like depositing money in a bank and the bankers telling you that if you do not spend it within a certain amount of time, they will keep it.

My life has been turned upside down as I go through room after room and turn the lights on and leave them on. I am even thinking about going out and purchasing electric heaters.

And I can promise you that the air conditioning will not be on conservation mode this coming summer. We are going to live in one of the coldest houses in the state of Vermont during those months.

With apologies to Tom Bodett, my normal statement to my wife when she goes off to a meeting at night is, “I’ll leave all the lights on for ya."

To the PSB: Just what were you thinking?

And as for me?

I am going to be spending a great deal of money — money I was trying to save — on therapy, most likely for the rest of my life.

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