Bending to a new U.S. requirement, the District of Columbia will spend $375,000 this year to erect "No Turn on Red" signs at 85 percent of the city's 1,400 signaled intersections.

The city previously had planned to spend a much smaller sum to erect 200 signs saying "Right Turn on Red Permitted" at the 15 percent of signaled intersections in the city where such turns are considered safe.

But the U.S. Department of Energy recently changed its requirements to mandate that all jurisdications in the nation use the so-called "western rule" allowing right turns on red except where prohibited by a sign.

The change will bring uniformity in the Washington area as well as nationally. Maryland and Virginia already are following the western rule.

The federal government has required the states to permit right turn on red after a full stop, and where it is safe, in order to save gasoline.

The District of Columbia was one of the last government units in the nation to adopt right-turn-on-red, and the program is not expected to be in effect until the end of this year.

D.C. Mayor Marion Barry mentioned the change in a press conference yesterday, and aides then scrambled to put on a press release to explain it.

Accordint to the press release, the federal government is expected to pay three-fourths of the $375,000 cost of erecting the signs.

Right turns on red will not be permitted at 85 percent of the city's signaled intersections where visibility is poor, or where there are exclusive pedestrian "walk" signals, a high volume of pedestrian crossings, or "significant crossing activity" by children, the elderly and the handicapped.

Barry announced at his press conference a new major effort by the city in energy conservation and planning. He appointed Chuck Clinton, coordinator of the energy unit in the office of planning and development, as the new director of the mayor's energy program.

"I am a mayor who belives that we must give top priority to energy conservation," Barry said. "The future of our society and our city rests on our ability to sustain our civilization's progress."

Clinton's energy unit has expanded during the past year and now has a staff of 13 with experts in technical energy information, community outreach and grant applications, the mayor said.

He said the city has applied for $6 million in U.S. funds for energy strategy planning, and to aid schools and hospitals in the city to conserve energy.

"We intend to tighten up," said Barry. "The D.C. government [now] has no way to even find out how much energy we use in gas bills, electric bills . . ."