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Congress will make us get up in the dark

Daylight Saving Time ends Saturday at 1 a.m., and even those anticipating the added darkness when rising may find sunlight especially dim this Sunday. Starting this year, Americans will set clocks forward three weeks earlier.

Daylight Saving Time ends Saturday at 1 a.m., and even those anticipating the added darkness when rising may find sunlight especially dim this Sunday. Starting this year, Americans will set clocks forward three weeks earlier.

Congress enacted the new policy as part of the 2005 energy bill. Proponents of the plan believe the new starting date could help the US conserve an extra 1 percent each day on energy usage during the three-week period.

The estimate may be based more on skewed conclusions than actual science. Current statistical analysis from scientists in California find Americans may see a negligible or even negative increase in energy savings.

A University of California Energy Institute case study of rollbacks in Australia is of particular interest. Australian government began Daylight Saving Time two months early in two of the three participating provinces for the 2000 Olympics. The study compared energy usage in Victoria, a province not hosting the games, against a control province.

The study found the evening drop-off in electricity use while people lingered outdoors was offset by a morning spike. Researchers concluded the country actually may have consumed more energy during the reduced period.

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In fairness, Australia's usage started earlier than ours by about two weeks. Still, said another report from the California Department of Energy, savings are estimated at about half what Congress expected. Statistical certainty is rated at 52 percent and the report found Americans might actually save nothing from the change

Daylight Saving Time is still subject to a law of diminishing return. When people wake up, they usually turn on lights if little natural light is available.

The sun will not rise Sunday in Park Rapids until nearly 8 a.m. Many people rise well before this, especially on business days. Instead of saving another hour of electricity in the evening, many people will consume extra time in the morning.

Far more energy could be saved by advocating for simple energy guidelines. A compact fluorescent bulb, for instance uses 25 percent of the electricity as an incandescent bulb of the same brightness and lasts 10 times longer.

In addition, businesses face the headache of updating computers programmed to change April 1. Major software companies released patches to fix new operating systems, but any computer running an older version must be reset manually four times this year to account for actual and programmed time changes.

Business meetings, especially international ones, may be impacted if electronic scheduling systems are not corrected. Other time sensitive systems are also vulnerable.

Hospitals and other health care facilities rely on accurate time records to ensure proper patient care. Medicines need administration at specific intervals, and mix-ups can have serious consequences.

The transportation industry scrambled as well to update computers. Air transit scheduling boards would create travel confusion if not updated properly.

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Fixing these issues is more a nuisance than a problem for most businesses, but it was completely preventable. For this much trouble, a clear benefit should be proven. Congress should not have just taken a shot in the dark.

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