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Utah's 4-day workweek cuts energy use 13 percent

Utah's 4-day workweek cuts energy use 13 percent



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Closing Utah state offices on Fridays has resulted in a 13 percent reduction in energy use according to an internal analysis of the nation's most expansive four-day workweek program.

Since last August, about 17,000 of the state's 24,000 executive branch employees have been working 10 hours a day, four days a week in an effort to reduce energy consumption and cut utility costs.

It's an experiment being closely monitored, and sometimes duplicated on a smaller level, by cities and states across the country who are grappling with growing budget deficits.

"I can't even name all the places that have called us," said John Harrington, state energy manager.

The analysis, shared with The Associated Press on the one-year anniversary of the program this week, covers the first nine months of the four-day workweek, although it doesn't pinpoint cost savings with the exception of a $203,000 reduction in custodial contracts.

Final cost saving estimates will be released in October, when analysts will have had time to pour over 11 months of data to account for fluctuations in utility rates and weather.

Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman anticipated saving $3 million out of a more than $10 billion budget with the four-day workweek in its first year, but early on state officials said that target would likely be missed.

That's because the price of oil and electricity have dropped since last summer, more than 200 of the state's 900 buildings were already closed on Fridays and it took several months to get the rest of the state's buildings to operate more efficiently on the days employees were there.

Some employees were also slow to abide by orders to leave the office on time or not come in on Fridays, while other employees work in buildings where utility costs are included in rental agreements.

Harrington is now focusing on 125 of the largest state-owned buildings where between 80 and 90 percent of state employees work to determine savings.

Incoming Gov. Gary Herbert, Huntsman's current lieutenant governor, is expected to make a decision on whether to extend the program shortly after the October report.

Even though employees are still working 40 hours a week, Harrington says energy savings are being realized under the new schedule because buildings were previously being used at all hours of the day to accommodate wildly divergent work schedules and personal preferences. Now, anyone who comes into work early, stays late or comes in over the weekend does so without being guaranteed the heat or air conditioning will be on.

Regardless of the final dollar amount, Harrington said Utah's energy reduction is something the growing state should be proud of.

"We'd like to have higher (than 13 percent), but in my mind it's good savings and it's very significant savings," he said.

He also contends the cost savings will only grow if the four-day workweek is granted permanent status.

He says that's because the state could renegotiate its long-term leases, invest in equipment that would isolate cooling and heating to where its needed on nights and weekends and that utility costs will inevitably rise in future years, particularly if a proposed cap and trade system on carbon emissions is put in place.

Employee surveys have also shown that most state workers like the new schedule -- absenteeism and overtime are down and customer complaints have steadily dropped. Even wait times at the Department of Motor Vehicles have decreased under extended hours Monday through Thursday.

The state estimates that, collectively, employees will save between $5 million and $6 million annually by not commuting on Fridays and the initiative will cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 12,000 metric tons.

Some employees like the four-day workweek so much that they're using a voluntary peer pressure network to help the program meets its cost-saving, energy-cutting goals to help ensure the program -- and employees' three-day weekends -- survive.

Since June, volunteer team captains have been reminding their co-workers to do such things as turn off lights, shut down computers and unplug coffee pots and other electronics when they're not in use.

Tamara DeMorest, a microbiologist and chemist for the Department of Health said she appreciates having Fridays off so she can regularly volunteer at Utah's Hogle Zoo, but she's still undecided about whether she'd like to see the program continue.

"I'd really have to sit down and think about it, whether I'd want more time for volunteer work or my personal time," she said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Brock Vergakis Writer

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