Warm winter costs some, pays off for others


(1/3/2007)

by Sarah Squires

There are bears in Alaska who have decided not to hibernate. We didn't have a white Christmas. In fact, there has not been one decent snowfall yet this winter.

And while no snow and warm sun might mean the roads are less treacherous than other years, the warm weather this year is costing some, and saving others.

For a seasonal snow plow professional, this year is a bit of an unrequested vacation. Bill Baker usually spends hours each winter behind the wheel of a plow, but this year he says he hasn't even started the truck.

The county's highway department has been out a few times. Veterans' Day and the Monday afterward needed some salt and sand. But the extreme mildness of the 2006-2007 winter thus far has been less than lion-like. It's more like a kitten.

For some people, the weather has been saving them money. Some days, a person could get away without turning the heat on at all, meaning less of an energy bill. For the school district, this means big bucks in savings.

For two years, District 861 has participated in a program called Energy Education. Bill O'Laughlin, director of buildings and grounds, said that the program isn't just about saving money. It's about changing attitudes, getting people to pay attention to ways they could pare back on energy demands.

"We save money; that's our biggest incentive," he said of the program. The district now uses a computer program to track its energy consumption, and, after two years of the program, coupled with the warm weather, the district is saving quite a stack.

November 2006 was actually colder than average, said O'Laughlin. But, December heat-related savings added up to $11,000, and the weather still shows little signs of cooling off. Additionally, the program used by the district to track its energy use calculates the temperature into something called "degree days," and O'Laughlin said that this winter has been 27 percent warmer over last year's temperatures.

Since the district started its program two years and eleven months ago, O'Laughlin said the district has avoided energy expense to the tune of $269,000. "It all adds up," he said.

The Coffee Mill Ski Area in Wabasha relies on snow for business. Its website indicates that 40 percent of trails are open with mechanically made snow, but rising temperatures make snow-making (and sticking) more difficult.

Janet Nustad, owner of Yellow Cab, said that the warm weather affects the cab industry because people are more willing to walk, and roadways are clear enough to bike. "In general, the worse the weather is the busier the cab companies are," she said. The busiest times are when the weather is the worst, when people tend to have more car problems, and the cold is a bigger motivator to call for a ride. "That's when our phones would just go crazy," she said.

Even though the weather might be slowing down the calls a bit, Nustad said she's still having a nice winter herself. "Even though it's not been great for business, I personally do enjoy the mild weather," she admitted.

 

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