In an attempt to garner favorable public relations during the calm before the storm when the pricing cap on domestic electric power comes off on Dec. 31, PPL has made available a tool to help consumers "learn more about how your home uses electricity."

The tool, the Kill A Watt Electricity Monitor, was given to the senior libraries in Carbon County – Dimmick, Lehighton and Palmerton – along with a packet of explanatory information. The tool is available to be checked out for one week. The information packet is retained by the borrower.

The libraries have had the monitors since June. According to the patron usage records, they have rarely been checked out. The Palmerton Library has a prominent poster about the monitor. Information was not as well advertised at the Dimmick and Lehighton Libraries.

Mariann Kmetz, a staff member at the Palmerton Library, checked out the monitor.

"We wanted to see how much power our hair dryer and clothes dryer were drawing," she said. "We wanted to know if it should be replaced. We found our air conditioner needed to be replaced. We haven't replaced it. My 11-year-old son really got into it and tested stuff all over the house."

The Kill A Watt Electricity Monitor package consists of three components: the Monitor, a single sheet instruction manual, and an information packet from PPL.

The information packet explains, "With this device, you can quickly and easily monitor how 120-volt appliances in your home use energy. Try it with your microwave oven, television, computer, telephone charger and more."

There are some concerns with the monitor. The device can only monitor 120-volt appliances with plugs. This is because the unit is designed so that the monitor plugs into a wall outlet and the appliance plugs into the monitor.

Unfortunately, the monitor cannot measure central electrical heating which uses about 31 percent of the electrical power, water heating at 12 percent, central air conditioning at 12 percent, overhead lighting at 11 percent, various 240-VAC devices which may include air conditioning, electric range, electric dryer and motors for pumps and spas. Combined, these may account for 70-percent of the home's electrical demand.

So, how can the monitor help?

The next largest user of electricity may be the refrigerator. This requires rolling out the refrigerator to install the monitor, and leaving it in place for a day to determine its 24-hour demand.

For those reluctant to turn off the refrigerator, the only thing they can do is replace it with an Energy Star unit. In most cases, a 20-year-old unit may be a cost-effective upgrade, but the monitor isn't going to tell you that.

As noted in PPL's circular, the monitor is aimed at appliances like "microwave oven, television, computer…"

First, since microwave ovens run for only seconds or minutes, not much can be learned with them. Televisions and computers can be easily turned off, but is it desirable or practical?

When consumers try to disconnect the television and/or their VCR/DVD player, it may take several minutes or sometimes much head-scratching to get them reprogramed since some units lose their programing of active channels when the devices are disconnected.

Switching off a computer sounds like a good idea. Of cause, if you use a laptop, it will continue to draw electricity to recharge the battery. You could disconnect it, but then the battery wouldn't charge.

Battery chargers have been getting a bad rap as being power wasters. Two models of Olympus camera battery chargers were tested with the monitor and found there was no noticeable power draw from either when no batteries were being charged.

Although the Chinese-made monitor is compact and logical, it is not convenient to use. The instructions are straight forward enough, "Plug the Kill A Watt monitor into a wall outlet" and "Plug the item into the Kill A Watt monitor."

This can be a problem. Outlets are often placed inches above the floor, behind furniture, and away from lighting. The display on the monitor is not lighted. So, to use the display as specified, a person has to move furniture, sit on the floor and bend awkwardly, using a flashlight to read the monitor. This gets old quickly.

It would have been far easier if the monitor came with a cord to plug into the outlet but since it doesn't, a heavy duty three-pronged extension cord can be used to make the connection. With this arrangement, the meter can be read conveniently.

If you have any questions, the information packet directs you to view the Energy Analyzer at www.pplelectric.com. Unlike most Web sites, this site requires a laborious registration process to receive any information. The registration process requires selecting a case sensitive password with a non-alphabetic and non-numerical character such as "!@#$%^&." This seems to be an unnecessary complication simply to view their page of information to make saving energy easier.

Next , you are required to create a PPL account. Not only do they require a bill number, they also require the bill due date for the current bill and the total amount due. People who toss out their bill after paying it cannot access this site until the next billing cycle, except if they call PPL for help.

Their Web site offers the options of contacting PPL by e-mail and receiving an answer in "two to three business days" or calling 1-800-DIAL-PPL. A call to the phone number puts the caller through a long menu of choices, culminating with, "all representatives are busy, please call back another time."

So, if a person is unable to make any progress, the question about the Kill A Watt Electricity Monitor is, has any watt been killed?

That is the mystery.