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PROBE: Aug. 31, 2001

August 31, 2001

QUESTION: The Imperial Irrigation District is giving people $1,200 to replace an old air conditioner with a new energy-efficient model. When we replaced ours recently, we got only $400. Is that fair? — Consumer, El Centro

When we bought a $60 dress for $6 after it had been reduced several times, was that fair to the shoppers that paid full price. We thought it was. We just got lucky.

People replacing their old units now after IID got a bundle from the state to subsidize energy conservation got lucky. That will save you money in the long run, according to IID spokeswoman Giller.

If IID customers use less electricity, IID won't have to build expensive new power plants or buy high-priced energy, she said. That sounds sensible. But it wouldn't surprise us to read a headline next year telling us rates are going up because consumers are buying so little power the power companies have to raise rates to cover their costs.

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QUESTION: With electricity so expensive, I am thinking about buying a desert cooler. Will IID give me a rebate? — Thinking Cheap, Imperial

IID will give up to $300 in a rebate if you buy a so-called desert cooler. That should be more. If more people would install desert or evaporative coolers, they would save lots of energy, and the users would save lots of money.

When we used desert coolers, our summer power bills were cheaper than our winter bills. When we finally got enough money to put in air conditioning, our electric bill jumped from $16 a month to $55 a month. It was a long time ago.

Some people call them desert coolers. That's because in the humid, dog days of August, they turn your home into a swamp where alligators could live happily. On dry days, they cool efficiently. In fact, the cooler and drier it gets, the better they work.

That's almost worse than the humidity. You may go to sleep sweating and wake up with your teeth chattering.

ONE HOT AFTERNOON — I was not working at the courthouse when Hazel Livingston, the court reporter, sat in on the inquest into the death of the writer Nathaniel West. I went to work as a court recorder in 1952.

Hazel had been there 12 years by then. I stayed only seven or eight years leaving around 1958. Hazel was there until the 1960s.

Court reporters did a lot more than take down the testimony in trials and inquests. They also worked for attorneys.

She was a nice lady and well-respected. But she had a fun side, too.

When I first came to work, the office legend was about the day that Hazel and one of the other recorders took off their blouses in the Recorder's Office.

You have to remember we didn't have air conditioning in those days. Court recorders worked Saturday mornings. One hot Saturday afternoon after the office closed, they took off their blouses to be cooler. Everybody thought that was so daring and funny. — Retired, El Centro

That was kind of daring, but life was not as staid as you might think in the 1940s or the 1950s. We get a kick out of those people who keep saying "in my day." We were there and some folks kicked up their heels.

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