I didn’t realize a 6-by-8-by-14-inch cardboard box could contain so many columns.
The first column, written in June, covered the basics: You have already paid FirstEnergy for an Ohio Energy Conservation Kit, but you won’t get one unless you ask for it.
The fee does not appear on your monthly bills because it is built into the overall rate structure approved by the Public Utilities Commission. (To square the ledger, call 1-877-639-0218 and have your account number handy.)
The kits (retail value about $80) contain nine compact fluorescent light bulbs, two LED night lights, a gizmo that tells you when it’s time to change your furnace filter and an “energy-saving power strip with a surge protector.”
Beyond the philosophical problem of automatically charging people for something they don’t automatically get, some other issues have cropped up.
One of them, breakage during shipping — complicated by the fact that CFLs contain a small amount of mercury — seems to have been rectified since FirstEnergy switched to heavier packaging in August.
Still, Energy Kit beefs continue. Now readers are expressing Power-Strip Rage.
Bob: A stupid device, as far as I’m concerned.
I read the directions a number of times because I was sure I misread them. In order for the power strip to be in effect as a power-surge protector, what is plugged into the one particular plug must pull sufficient power to activate it, and it needs to be “on” all the time.
Seriously? How is that saving energy?
I cut power to the TV when it’s not in use. And, even if I left the laptop plugged in all the time, it goes to sleep. So how, exactly, do you make use of the surge protector without wasting electricity?
And if that weren’t enough, only two of the plugs are always “on.” I have a light that will pull enough power to activate the other plugs, but I don’t need that lamp on, which means I’m wasting electricity just to be able to use additional plugs.
I spoke with two men about this, one who works for FirstEnergy and another who is an engineer for Goodyear. They both thought I misread the directions.
Uh, no. I didn’t.
Jan: I can relate to your experience because I am frequently accused of misreading things. Sometimes I actually do, and I’d hate for that to happen here, so I shall defer to the brain trust at FirstEnergy.
Spokesman Chris Eck laid things out thusly in an email:
“When the master outlet draws more than about 40 watts, it allows the controlled outlets to power other devices. When the draw on the master outlet drops below about 20 watts, the controlled outlets are shut off.
“This would allow a customer to plug a computer into the master outlet, and a monitor, printer and speakers, for instance, into the controlled outlets. Then, when the computer is shut off or goes into standby mode, the other three devices would automatically shut down.
“There does have to be some draw on the master outlet for the energy-saving features to function. Without that, the power strip can always be used ... as a normal surge protector.
“We realize not every customer will have the perfect arrangement of devices to take advantage of the full savings this device can offer, but those who do will use less electricity.”
In other words, Jan, you didn’t exactly misread the instructions. But you made the assumption that surge protection is not activated unless the controlled outlets are drawing current, which is not the case. This thing always serves as a surge protector, no matter what else might or might not be going on.
If you don’t like what FirstEnergy is selling — well, things could be worse. You could be a customer of American Electric Power. See below.
Bob: Thanks to your repeated, incessant, redundant hounding, my family also recently requested and eventually received our “free” Home Energy Kit from AEP, although quite different from the one the Dyer household received.
We are the proud new owners of two 13-watt CFLs, two 20-watt CFLs and a 23-watt CFL — a grand total of five, compared to your nine.
Of course, we’ll have to meet all the EPA regulations when these inevitably wear out, burn out, dry out, break or otherwise cease to exist. Try to bring anything else so dangerous to human life as we know it into our homes and see where the do-gooders stand.
We received one LED night light with a photocell (actually pretty cool, but much less bright than our traditional 4- or 8-watt night lights), while you got two.
Also received a great 12-pack of outlet and switch draft-stoppers.
I’m rather jealous that you gained ownership of your very own energy-saving power strip. I could really have used that one.
I suppose FirstEnergy (one word, two caps) cares more about you than AEP does about us here in Coshocton.
Nonetheless, if not for you, my family would have wasted all our energy dollars and received nothing “free” in return. I owe you that much.
Your loyal but distant reader.
Glenn: Please don’t feel distant. I feel a special closeness to all of my readers. They enable me to maintain a lifestyle to which I have become resigned.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.