Opinion: Energy bills

POSTED: 02/17/11 12:38 AM

We read somewhere that certain schools have a problem with their utility bills. They seem to be sky high and of course this is not the fault of the schools but of the utilities company that charge them commercial rates. We’re just wondering whether this is correct, because we think that there is probably a better explanation for sky high utility bills.
Let’s face it, electricity bills don’t go through the roof because someone leaves the lights in the toilets on all night. The largest consumers of electricity anywhere on the island are air conditioning systems. Wherever we go, we find that people who control these systems have no clue about the consequences of their own behavior.
We’re too old to be in school, but we do get into places like the government building, the parliament building, the courthouse, and banks, just to name a few examples. All these places have a few things in common, and together they add up to unhealthy energy bills. While human behavior definitely plays a role, the first thing to look at is how government facilities like offices and schools are constructed. We don’t have to consider measures to keep the cold out, like in places that go through serious winters every year, so the companies that do the building leave this out of their plans.
There is however another aspect to consider: how to keep the cold inside buildings and how to keep the heat on the outside. If ever someone came with infrared equipment to St. Maarten for survey of energy-loss from public buildings, we’re pretty sure the island would light up like a Christmas tree. So in a way, the quality of our buildings is in part responsible for the fact that energy bills go through the roof – literally.
The second aspect is equally important: human behavior. As a kid, we all learned that leaving the door of a refrigerator open is a bad idea. We learned that we have to switch off the lights when we go to sleep, and to switch them off when we leave the house, and not to leave the lights on all day long in the bathroom and the shed.
As we said, light is not the main source for high energy bills. It’s the air conditioning systems. In most offices, managing these systems is left to the actual users. There is always a remote control at hand, and there is always someone nearby to claim that it is awfully hot, even though common sense says that the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures should at best be a couple of degrees.
This is how many employees in public offices and banks end up shivering all day long, because somebody thinks it is necessary to set the thermostat at a ridiculous low temperature like 18 degrees. The courtroom is usually freezing, the A.C. Wathey Legislative Hall was always been freezing, in most banks it is freezing and we figure that the situation in most schools is not different.
The new parliament building has doors that close automatically, but in the old A.C. Wathey Legislative Hall this was not the case. More often than not, the air conditioning was roaring inside, while the door to the exit was open for long periods of time. It made one wonder whether the government ever saw a bill from GEBE for what must be a devastating level of energy consumption.
So if schools have a problem with their energy bills, maybe they ought to take a critical look at the way they use their air conditioning first.

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