All the suffering the overheated office workers of America have been going through this past month may be for naught: President Carter's war on air conditioning doesnt doesn't to be saving much energy.
The nation's electrical power use hit an all-time high last week, despite the peresident's order making it illegal to set thermostats below 78 degress, according to the Edison Electric Institute, an industry assocation.
With much of the nation sweltering under a muggy heat wave, electric power consumption jumpted 8.8 percent over the same week last year. This mean that usage has increased every week except one since the order went into effect July 16.
No one is sure what caused the increase. Unseasonably hot weather, increased industrial use, increased home appliance use, are all possibilities. And the Department of Energy is quick to point out that their program is still in its infant stages.
"Our program isn't rolling yet. We're barely in business," said Odom Fanning, spokesman for the Emergency Temperature Restrictions Program.
But the figures lend credence to what many owners and managers of the nation's 5 million office buildings have been saying for weeks. Simply put, many are highly skeptical of the impact the 78-degree order will have on energy use.
"The jury is still out. But it may very well cost us more dollars and energy units than it will save," says Mark Starks, manager of the John Hancock Building in Chicago, one of the nation's largest buildings. "Right now, everyone in the industry is keeping very careful records."
"It's sort of an academic exercise in Chicago, of course," he added. "The vast majority of our electrical energy here is generated by coal and nuclear power. And this thing is designed to save oil."
Complaints from building owners and managers fall into four general categories. These are:
The rules are unenforceable.
The rules contain so many loopholes that many buildings, and parts of buildings, will be exempted from coverage.
Increased use of fans, which the rules encourage, wipes out some energy savings.
Heating and cooling systems in many newer buildings were designed to run most effeciently at temperatures below 78 degrees. In order to reach 78, some operators must actually heat air ducts to raise the temperature in the middle of the summer.
"When you shake the whole think out, I don't think it's going to save any energy at all," says John O'Neill, executive vice president of the Washington Apartment and Office Building Association.
Two of the most controversial parts of the regulations are that they don't reward building owners who already have taken significant moves to conserve energy, and it is relatively easy to qualify for exemption from the 78-degree rule.
At Chicago's John Hancock Bulding, for example, Starks says 30 tenants have notified him that they intend to seek exemptions. The building's cooling system has eight separate sections. Each section will serve at least one exempted tenant, which means that all in each section will be included.
"Given the way we have to control the heat in the building, we will have to operate pretty much as usual," Starks says.
The rules state that any office is in compliance if a single room in a given office zone has a temperature at 78 degrees or above.
"If you have one room that has a Xerox machine and it is hot, the whole office is in compliance," says Paul Eskridge, who oversees the cooling systems in several downtown Washington office buildings. "In some of our buildings, we're operating pretty much as before. The law is one big loophole."
The president's order went into effect July 16, and continues through April 16, 1980. The order also prohibits heating of nonresidential buildings above 65 degrees in the winter. In addition, it limits hot water temperatures - except where health considerations require higher levels - to a peak of 105 degrees, which is about 35 degrees less than the level normally provided by most domestic water heaters.
The Department of Energy estimates that all of this could save the nation between 200,000 and 400,000 barrels of oil per day - about 2 percent of total U.S. consumption.
The department, however, is depending on voluntary compliance until the end of the summer because it doesn't have inspection and enforcement programs in place. And there is dispute over whether any energy has yet been saved.
The report by the Edison Electric Institute released yesterday said electric use was up in every region of the country last week, when compared with the same week a year ago. The largest single increase was 19.8 percent, in New England. In the Mid-Atlantic region, the increase was 15.3 percent.
No figures were available for the immediate Washington area. In the five years since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, however, average annual consumption in the Maryland suburbs has dropped by 4.7 percent and increased only 1.6 percent in the District of Columbia. Electric power usage increased about 5 percent in the Virginia suburbs.
As temperatures soared in recent weeks in scores of Washington office buildings and stores, fan sales went up with them.
"We are completely sold out," a salesman at a Hechinger store on Wisconsin Avenue said yesterday. "We've even sold the display models."