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Plugged-in tweens go green

Device available from Vaughan libraries sparks discussion on electricity use

When John Leonardelli checked a Watt Reader out from the library, he hoped it would spark a water-cooler conversation at his Maple home.

That is, how much it costs him to run that proverbial water cooler.

Launched by electrical utility PowerStream as a pilot project at Maple Library in 2005 and further expanded to include all Vaughan and Markham libraries in 2006, the Watt Reader lending program offers a free and easy way to learn how much electricity — and money — is gobbled up by their plug-in gadgets.

“It brought up the opportunity to have a discussion around energy usage and energy management and what it means on a cost basis to the father,” Leonardelli, the green-conscious father of three said.

He plugged the 40-inch projection television in his family room into the Watt Reader and left it for a week. When the seven-day loan was up, Leonardelli was faced with the reality that “it costs me $6.15 to run that TV for the week”.

“I sat down with the children and I said, ‘OK, so I put this thing on the meter and I know you guys have the TV upstairs, too’,” he told his tween-aged kids. “There’s probably a couple of bucks usage out of that for the week, so basically it’s $8-$9 to watch TV for the week.”

Though he was surprised to learn that just watching TV cost that much, Leonardelli said, “usage isn’t going to decrease in any way”.

He added he plugged in the Watt Reader to teach his kids about energy conservation, and it has made them more aware of turning things off when they aren’t being used.

“The children have become more and more conscious of it because of that exercise,” he said. “They understand it better because there’s actually an example.”

Rosemary Bonanno, former chief executive officer of Vaughan Public Libraries, said in 2005 that she was sure the lending program would succeed because “it helps people find out how they might reduce energy consumption and save money too”, just like the Leonardelli family.

At Alex and Teresa Smith’s house in Woodbridge, the draw on the power grid is much smaller than the Leonardelli’s.

Helping the newlyweds keep their energy consumption down are their new appliances.

“The fridge downstairs is probably about five years old and all the stuff up here is brand new,” said Alex Smith. “The washing machine is five years old (but) it’s all energy guide rated.”

Though the Watt Reader told him he was already doing a fairly good job at energy conservation, Smith said his situation is probably the exception, not the rule.

“If you have a big house and you have a lot of things that you’re using, I’d say get (the reader), figure out what you’re using and where you’re using it and figure out how to save on certain things,” he said.

In Leonardelli’s opinion, any cost savings are a happy bonus, but the real benefit of using a Watt Reader is the environmental awareness it creates for young people.

“I called a couple of my friends and said: ‘Hey, you should pick one of these things up at the library … it gives you a chance to talk to your kids about energy conservation, like we did.’ ”

Vaughan Today
Friday, October 19, 2007
Page: 9
Section: Kids & Families
Byline: Philip Alves