THE WASHINGTON Gas Light Co. just announced that it was seeking permission to impose new charges ranging from $7.80 to $14 a month on customers who cut their gas consumption significently by substituting electricity or some other form of energy for gas.
The electricity supply companies around the country have warned people that if they conserve too much electricity, their rates will also have to go up; and during California's drought last year the water companies raised rates on customers because they were not using enough water.
What is dawning on people in this country is that conservation may not guarantee anyone cheaper utility bills.
The Antrous family was sitting around the living room during a freeze in 1969. They had all their clothes on, but were still frozen. Mr Antrobus had thrown most of the dining room furniture into the fireplace when there was a ring at the door.
It was the man from the gas company. "Mr. Antrobus, I see you're heating your house by furniture instead of gas. We'll have to add an additional $50 to your bill."
"But we can't afford to heat with gas ever since they took the controls off. We have to conserve every cubic inch we can."
"That is not our problem, Mr. Antrobus. We're willing to provide you with gas at a price. If your don't buy it, it costs us money. We're not in the energy business for our health."
Mr. Antrobus threw a table into the fireplace.
"But we need gas for cooking, not for heating our home. We can't afford both."
"Then you'll have to pay for it. We don't like consumers who just want to cook with gas, but prefer to heat by burning their tables in the fireplace. I'm sure as extra $50 surcharge is not out of line."
"I guess not," said Mr. Antrobus wearily. "Would you give me a hand with this dresser? The top is formica and won't burn."
The gas man left by the front door. A few minutes later the man from the electricity company came in the back one.
"Why is everyone reading by candles?" he wanted to know.
"We're trying to save on electricity," Mrs. Antrobus said. "This is supposed to be the worst winter in years, and we need what little electricity we can afford for the television set."
"Our reports indicate you've only used a third of the amount of electricity that you used three years ago."
"Yes, sir. We've been very careful. We never put on a light unless we have to."
"We'll have to charge you an extra $100 a month."
"Is that a surcharge?"
"No, that's a fine. Anyone who uses less than half the amount of electricity he used in a previous year is subject to a $100 fine and six months in prison. In your case the fine will be sufficient warning. But watch yourselves because we're keeping files on you." He exited.
"This conservation is really costing us," Mrs. Antrobus said.
"It's still cheaper to burn the furniture than to pay the gas bills," Mr. Antrobus told her.
There was a knock on the door. It was man from the Washington Furniture Energy Company. He said, "I regret to inform you that we will have to raise the price of furniture you are burning by $18 a chair."
"But why? We're using everything we can burn."
"So is everybody else. At this rate, all the furniture in the country will be used up by 1995 and we will be unable to supply our customers. We hope that by raising our rates, people like you will give some thought to conserving furniture which is this country's last valuable energy source."
"The hell with it," Mr. Antrobus said to his wife. "Let's go back to gas."
"If you do," warned the furniture man, "we'll have to charge you extra for it."