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Editorial: Plug into savings with these tips

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How would you like an extra $120 in your pocket?

There's a simple thing you can do that will not only save you a few bucks, but also help reduce energy consumption. All you have to do is put your computer to sleep when it's inactive.

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The idea came out of a new study commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Commerce's Office of Energy Security (OES). It found that five minutes spent changing a simple computer setting could save the average Minnesota family $120 per year on its electricity bill.

The study, conducted by the Energy Center of Wisconsin with grant money from OES and Minnesota Power, highlights ways for consumers to waste less energy - and money - while still running their favorite electronics.

The study examined the growing impact of plug-in devices such as computers and TVs on home energy usage and offers suggestions on how homeowners can take action to reduce unnecessary energy use.

Plug-load devices include everything from computers to cell phone chargers. They account for 15 to 30 percent of home electricity usage, according to the study.

Over time, even rarely used devices can cost consumers as they continue to use electricity while connected to an outlet, regardless of whether they are turned on or off.

"Increasing energy efficiency begins at home," said William Glahn, director of the OES and deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce. "While much is already known about large-scale energy use in the home such as space heating, this study is one of the first to focus on plug-load electronics. Minnesota consumers can see real energy savings by taking some easy and inexpensive steps."

Another tip from Energy Center is to recycle old, secondary refrigerators or replace them with new ones. Minnesotans holding onto old appliances may end up spending more money than if they were to replace them with new, high-efficiency models. Refrigerators built in the 1970s use five times the amount of electricity of present-day models, according to the Energy Data Sourcebook from Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory.

Conducted between December 2008 and October 2009, the Energy Center study used telephone and mail surveys to collect information from Minnesota households on the quantity and types of plug-in devices in the homes.

The study culminated with on-site metering of the devices in 50 homes to analyze how the devices are used and identify opportunities to reduce waste. The study was unique in that it included interviews with the homeowners to gauge their willingness to perform specific actions to reduce energy waste.

The report is available on the OES website at www.energy.mn.gov.

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