Phoenix and its suburbs, where the air conditioning is cranked up so high that office workers and shoppers get goosebumps and have to wear sweaters in the middle of the summer, are being urged to turn down the AC to avoid rolling blackouts.
But it’s not going to be easy to get people to change their ways.
Phoenix-area utilities started asking customers to conserve energy after fires at two transmission stations earlier this month reduced their capacity to deliver electricity. One of the first energy-saving suggestions: Push the thermostat a few degrees higher.
“It all starts with the air conditioner. That is the piece of equipment that is responsible for 50 to 60 percent of the total bill in the summer,” said Scott Harelson, a spokesman for Salt River Project, a utility serving the Phoenix area.
If customers raise their thermostat a degree, they can save 2 percent to 3 percent on the air conditioning portion of their energy bill, according to Arizona Public Service Co., the area’s other large electrical utility.
Cooling encouraged growth
But in this desert city where temperatures regularly climb above a scorching 110 degrees in the summer, people just love the cold air blowing over them.
It was artificial cooling, after all, that helped turn Phoenix into a booming Sun Belt city in the first place. After World War II, when air conditioning became cheaper and more available, people and corporations moved in. Between 1950 and 1995, Arizona’s population grew 462 percent. By 2002, Arizona was the second fastest-growing state.
Residents are accustomed to working in offices so frigid they get goosebumps. When they go to the movies, eat at restaurants or stroll through the mall, they sometimes take along sweaters.
At the Phoenix hospital where 20-year-old Nataliya Biskup works, the thermostat stays at 72 degrees. “I need a jacket in there. I bring a sweater to work. I recover from work here,” Biskup said while sitting outside a coffee shop in 109-degree heat.
Last week, when workers tried to save power by waiting closer to game time before cooling Bank One Ballpark — the world’s first baseball stadium to combine a grass field, retractable roof and air conditioning — everyone from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ fans to the visiting team complained.
The fridge effect
Rick Dinneen, a kindergarten teacher, saw frosty air pouring out of the open doors at an upscale Scottsdale shopping center. “You could feel the air coming out of it,” he said. “I went in there and talked to the manager. She thought I was some nut.”
When he asked employees at several stores to close the doors and conserve energy, he got kicked out by a security guard.
Officials from the outdoor mall later apologized to Dinneen and urged shops to cut down on their energy use.
Harelson, the utility spokesman, said residents and businesses can do their part and heed warnings to use energy efficiently.
“There are seemingly small steps to take that can lead to some inconvenience and some uncomfortable moments,” he said. “In the long run, it helps us keep the lights on and that’s good news.”