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Bay area yawns at early start of daylight saving

By SHEELA RAMAN
Published March 9, 2007


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In a state synonymous with sunshine, an extra hour of light later doesn't raise many eyebrows.

As the nation gets ready to "spring forward" three weeks early - this Sunday morning instead of the first Sunday in April - Tampa Bay area farmers, business owners, and parents seem relatively unfazed.

Floridians don't generally incur exorbitant heating bills or suffer from seasonal affective disorder.

"It's going to have a marginal impact on Southern folk," said Greg Fanning, a St. Petersburg resident.

The federal government instituted the early time change as part of an energy bill in 2005. The goal of the added daylight saving, which will also extend one week into November, is to lower energy costs by increasing the amount of time to use the available natural light in the day.

When daylight saving time was extended by two months after the 1973 oil embargo, the country saved the equivalent of 10,000 barrels of oil each day, totaling about 600,000 barrels in each of those two years.

Because Florida is closer to the equator than most states, extended daylight saving will have less of an impact than in the north. In regions closer to the equator, periods of daylight and darkness are more equal throughout the year.

In Florida, the time change works in more subtle ways.

On Sunday, Busch Gardens has two outdoor concerts scheduled. Spring breakers will be flooding the area at the same time.

Gerard Hoeppner, spokesman for Busch Gardens, said the theme park will make an extra effort to market outdoor events during the three extra weeks

"Subconsciously, with the extra hour of daylight, people will want to stay longer," he said.

Hoeppner said he is not worried about changing Busch Gardens' computer systems to the new time, even though some technology experts have warned that the time change could cause Y2K-like problems.

"For anyone who's gone through the millennium change, this will be pretty standard," he said.

For the Mangrove Bay Golf Course, daylight saving time has a mixed effect.

Right now, the course attracts the most customers early in the morning, and their first tee time is just before 7 a.m. Because it will be dark until about 7:30 a.m. with the new change, the course will lose about three tee times, cutting off about a dozen players, said Jeff Hollis, golf course director. But the extra evening light will attract players to the driving range, which is open until 8 p.m., he said.

"Only time will tell what the net effect is," he said.

Little League teams, which often practice into the night, could save a significant amount of money, said Bill O'Connell, president of the Dunedin Little League.

The teams are under a restriction from the city of Dunedin not to surpass their 2006 electric bill of $24,000, or else they will have to pay the balance. More daylight means that at least a few of the league's six practice fields will not need to turn on the lights as often.

"It's going to help us stay under budget," he said.

Farmers have historically opposed daylight saving time because it throws off their work schedule. Now, it seems that area farmers have adjusted to natural time, no matter what the clock says.

"I haven't put a whole lot of thought into it," said Mike Council, who owns Trio Farms in the Bradenton area. "It definitely won't affect the way crops grow," he said.

For parents, the prospect of children waiting in the dark for the morning school bus causes some apprehension. But most of the 15 area parents the Times contacted said they have already found alternatives.

Jill MacGregor, of Tarpon Springs, said she waits with her children every morning at the bus stop.

Fanning, of St. Petersburg, said he would be concerned about the added morning darkness, except that his kids have "a sweet deal on a bus stop in front of the house."

So computer glitches aside, daylight saving time will likely mean that Tampa Bay area residents do a little more of what they always do: enjoy the sun.

[Last modified March 9, 2007, 01:33:14]


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