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Burning midnight oil to save on midnight oil; Essay: Watt's up? You as you add electricity to the list of things for which you have to find the best deal.


News item: The Maryland Public Service Commission is launching a $5.6 million public education campaign to help consumers choose from among competing power companies as utility deregulation takes effect.

Choice, yes, choice is good. It's how things ought to go in a free market society. Yes? Yes.

It's what you kept telling yourself when they broke up the old telephone company and you tried very, very hard to understand how it was that in case of telephone trouble you would call one guy if the trouble was between the street box and your house, and another guy if it was somewhere between the wall jack and the telephone, and another guy if the problem was between the earpiece and the mouthpiece, and then finally a Certified Public Accountant to add up the repair bill.

So you got piles of material and clipped all the newspaper stories and tried very, very hard to read the stuff and not nod off and slump over and knock the telephone off the hook. This would then cause a loud BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP, which would only wake you up so you'd have to go back to comparing MCI at 6 cents a minute state-to-state except for daytime, Sunday evenings and Mother's Day with several exceptions for people on Mountain Time, vs. AT&T; at 7 cents a minute including Mother's Day with bonus points toward free Blockbuster movie rentals every time you call a 900-number and talk to someone named "Velveeta."

It was worth it, though, because after several solid weekends of this you saved enough money to pay part of the cost of getting a big guy with a huge tool belt and a visible gluteal fold to lumber in and determine through a five-hour process of elimination that the trouble with the phone was actually somewhere between the box down the street and a satellite installation in Ames, Iowa.

So who knows how much you can save now on your utility bills, what with all the information available on the Internet and more of it coming in all the time in the mail and in the papers. It's really great because it means you'll be up quite late calculating the advantage of paying 4.224 cents per kilowatt hour with BGE vs. the Alamo Rental Car incentive plan being offered by FirstEnergy Services Corp. vs. the fact that Pepco Services gives the first 55 kilowatt hours free unless you choose to earn points toward a cruise to the Greek island of Mykonos or coupons for Domino's Pizza.

But you're not getting much sleep anyway, not when you're lying awake thinking how you could be saving $1.23 on a box of Fruit Loops through, or how it's been at least 33 minutes since you logged on to check late developments in the Asian bond markets or whether has come up with a 36-to-43-year-old single person with no children living at home who still has most of their original teeth and enjoys dining out, backpacking and swing dancing, but not necessarily at the same time.

So you get up out of bed and go to the computer and log on to and buy enough groceries to feed the Dallas Cowboys for a month because who could resist saving $1.87 on the 25-pound box of Hamburger Helper? You're about to log off when your specially programmed computer alert function tells you there's been a late-breaking development in discount air fares on

All right, it's after 2 a.m. but you go to and discover that if you pack right now and hurry it up you can save $107 on a round-trip to Copenhagen, so long as the flight is routed through Denver and you stay overnight Wednesday and do not agree to accept carry-on luggage from any white guy with a shaved head wearing camouflage attire.

It's one heckuva deal, but there's probably a better one on, which you quickly check out and inadvertently discover an amazing price on 30 rolls of two-ply toilet tissue plus a savings of 87 cents on jumbo hot dog buns.

Sure enough, there's a better fare to Copenhagen but only if you sign up now with Washington Gas Energy Services Inc.

Tempting. So tempting. But obviously this decision will require more study and more time so it's a good thing about all the Hamburger Helper and toilet paper. If only you had more information.

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