I’m Taking an Electric Staycation

By Kathleen Davis, senior editor

Perhaps you’re new to the term “staycation.” I first heard it a couple of months ago when Bill Geist, my favorite correspondent on CBS Sunday Morning, took us along on his “vacation staying home” or “staycation.” Geist made himself tropical drinks, dressed in Hawaiian shirts, read under a sun lamp.

The product of high gas prices, the product of a staggering economy, the product of a tightening budget belt: Ladies and gentlemen, the staycation.

Now, staycations are all over the TV. They’ve morphed from national to regional. Tulsa newscasters are standing tall and pretty in front of city attractions: the aquarium, the zoo, museums, the Bass Pro Shop. (It’s Oklahoma. The Bass Pro Shop is a tourist attraction in Oklahoma.) Those shiny newscasters extol the virtues of keeping it local for your staycation: helping the state’s economy, helping a family’s budget, helping those city attractions stay afloat for future visits.

But, really they are missing the point: The point of a staycation is not to go out and paint the town. It’s not to visit the shark tank or moon over Thomas Morans at the museum. The point of the staycation is to stay inside: door shut, no distractions. It’s 101 degrees outside, but inside the house, it’s 76. Now there is the joy of a staycation: no sweating.

I’m planning a staycation this year. I admit that. I’m going to enjoy soap operas and my iPod, surfing the Internet and taking a nap in the cool artificially-artic air. And, nine-tenths of things I shall enjoy will require electricity and lots of it.

Ah, electricity, the enabler of the staycation.

Last month, my electric bill nearly doubled due to planned increases to cover AEP’s ice storm losses from last winter and current higher fuel costs. We are actually expecting another round of increases quite soon. You might think all those bulging red numbers would have me second-thinking a staycation. Why, another round of per-kW raises, and I could be at the point of tripling my monthly payment.

But, in the end, it’s all about how the numbers balance. Sure, doubling and tripling sounds bad. It sounds painful. It sounds like a budget-buster . . . until you find out that my original bill was pretty darn small, really. Doubling it still keeps that monthly bill under the cost of getting one full-grown adult into EPCOT. Tripling it wouldn’t equal a single night in a nice D.C. hotel. If I budget in gas and food and souvenirs, that tripling of my electric bill is still the cheapest vacation I ever took.

Unlike Bill, however, I don’t think I’ll be donning the Hawaiian shirt and reading under a sun lamp. (I get the feeling he really did that for the cameras. Don’t you?)

I’m sure I’ll see Bill on my staycation, when I turn the TV on Sunday morning and he’s there, along with Charles Osgood. I may also hang out with Mark Harmon and Jerry Seinfeld and the gang from “Antiques Roadshow.” It’s going to be one heck of a staycation.

In the end, for all my whining about electric bills and for all my frantic reading on “doomsday” scenarios (see the BusinessWeek article “Power Surge” that ran in the Aug. 4 issue), I’ve learned a very valuable lesson from weighing the budget of a staycation against the budget of a vacation: Electricity, at almost any price in the United States right now, is still cheap for the service we get.

So, thanks AEP for powering my staycation so affordably.

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