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Lights out 

It was hard to miss Rosauers President and CEO Jeff Philipps, smiling out of the full-page newspaper ads announcing the grocery chain's decision to lock its doors between midnight and 5 am to save energy.

The shuttered stores were a large-scale response to the energy crisis that has dimmed the lights in sunny California, and threatened to spread up the coast, over Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

But meanwhile, on a smaller scale and more quietly, similar energy conservation efforts are taking root all over the region, in smaller businesses and at private homes, often in innovative ways that go beyond old standbys like flicking off the light when leaving a room.

And with soaring energy prices showing no signs of dipping any time soon, experts say that right now, every bit, no matter how little, helps.

"We can do a lot more than just change light bulbs," says Mark Longmeier, the president of Spokane-based Northwest Energy Services, who is also a board member of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Counsel. "We have been preaching this for years and years -- conservation is a long-term commitment, and we must make investments, and keep working on it in order to achieve savings."

Spokane Neighborhood Action Program's Project Share, a program that helps defray energy expenses for low-income families, has seen strong demand for assistance this season. As a result, its coordinators are fairly bursting with tips for homeowners to keep energy costs down.

"I wish I could go door to door in Spokane and test the temperatures of people's hot water tanks, and turn them down," says Noah Skocilich, a conservation education specialist with SNAP. "People could save $20 a month -- it takes five minutes! Just turn it down to 110 to 120 degrees or so."

Some of Skocilich's tips are low-cost, low-effort and low-tech, while others require more know-how and financial investment.

Among the first group, he ticks off turning down the thermostat to a brisk 55 degrees at nighttime, the check on the hot water tank, keeping the coils on the backs of refrigerators clean, not standing in front of the refrigerator with the door hanging open, doing laundry in cold water and purchasing compact fluorescent light bulbs.

He also recommends plugging a home for leaks and drafts through which heat could escape -- particularly along windows (which should, for the truly energy efficient, be double paned) and underneath doors. Skocilich advocates buying a plastic device that can be placed at the bottom of the door so that air cannot escape. In addition, he says people should check for leaks in basements and attics and underneath sinks. Any cracks or holes can easily be filled an inexpensive product called "rope caulk."

"Go around your house and feel for drafts," Skocilich advises. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist -- you just need some bubble gum and bailing wire, duct tape and cardboard -- and to get off your butt."

Another way to begin figuring out how to make a home more energy efficient is to go to Avista's Web site and fill out a home energy audit. Catherine Parochetti, a spokeswoman for Avista, says it takes about half an hour, but the results can map out a plan for saving a lot of energy.

There are also a variety of energy-saving appliances and gadgets on the market, which both Longmeier and Skocilich endorse, from refrigerators and washing machines that are marked with the "Energy Star" seal of approval, to digital thermometers that can be programmed to reduce temperatures during the day (when people are less likely to be at home) and at night, while people are asleep.

In addition, although natural gas prices have risen 30 percent since September, largely due to demand outpacing supply, Skocilich said that natural gas furnaces are still the most energy efficient of available heating sources.

Local businesses are also working on conservation efforts -- out by the Spokane International Airport, for example, the Ramada Inn has installed a high-tech sensory heating system. The hotel's general manager, Rick LaFleur, says that the new system can sense when a traveler has left the room and will turn the heat down accordingly -- and bring the temperature back up when the traveler returns.

All over town, businesses have reported that they are prohibiting individual space heaters stationed at employee's own desks or cubicles, because the devices are energy-suckers, says Libby Barnes, vice president of marketing at the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce. And many businesses have convened meetings to talk with employees about how to save energy at the workplace and at home.

At the Chamber, Barnes' own workplace, they've started turning off the coffee machine a couple hours earlier in the afternoon, and turning off their computers when they leave work, instead of leaving them to hum on sleep mode all night long.

The bottom line, says Longmeier, is that the energy situation today, is "not a pretty picture. So people have just got to turn down the thermostats a degree or two, and turn off the Christmas lights. I don't want to sound like a scrooge, but that's what we have got to do."

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