I set two clocks last night. My daughter has field hockey goalkeeping practice early on Sunday mornings, and while that’s not normally a problem, I wasn’t sure whether the clock would roll over on its own this morning. Last night, of course, time sprung ahead in some parts of the world, ours included, for Daylight Saving Time (DST).
Before 1966, laws setting dates for DST were somewhat fluid. The United States officially adopted DST during World War I – after Germany did so – but the unpopular law was removed soon afterward. It continued to be observed sporadically in some states until World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt again signed temporary DST into law. As before, the law didn’t continue after the war.
That changed in 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson signed a bill into law calling for DST to begin on the last Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday of October each year. The dates were tweaked again, twenty years later, under Ronald Reagan who amended DST to begin at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday of April and end at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday of October. Just about twenty years later, President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (downloads as a pdf) which had as its short title, “To ensure jobs for our future with secure, affordable, and reliable energy.” In addition to a number of tax breaks, the law also extended DST by four weeks – that’s why we “fall back” in November now, instead of October.
The beginnings of DST are sometimes credited to Benjamin Franklin. The idea appeared in his 1784 essay, “An Economical Project,” though many are quick to point out that it was considered to be satire. In the essay, Franklin calculates the hours spent burning candles and declared:
An immense sum! that the city of Paris might save every year, by the economy of using sunshine instead of candles.
Whether or not Franklin actually inspired DST, it’s clear that the underlying concept is what drives DST today: energy policy and saving money. That’s contrary to popular opinion which suggests that the adoption of DST in America was tied to accommodating farmers. In fact, according to Tufts University professor Michael Downing, “That’s the complete inverse of what’s true. The farmers were the only organized lobby against daylight saving in the history of the country.” Why? Among other reasons, it left them with an hour less sunlight to get crops to market.
Rather, the DST has been linked to energy policy and saving money, often accompanied by tax changes. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 – the one that extended the DST – was no exception. The Act took several years to nail down, largely because of a controversy over whether energy policy should favor fossil fuels or solar and wind power (sound familiar?). The resulting energy policy incentives were to be implemented through a mishmash of new rules and tax credits.
One popular tax credit in the 2005 Act was for fuel-efficient vehicles (hybrid vehicles). The credit, which allowed up to $3,400 in tax credits on qualifying vehicles, expired in 2010. But tax credits for alternative vehicles still exist, including the 10% 2-wheel plug-in electric vehicle credit, capped at $2,500, which was extended through 2017 as part of the extenders package. The extenders also allow, through 2017, a tax credit of between $4,000 and $40,000, depending on the weight of the vehicle, for purchases of new qualified fuel cell motor vehicles and a credit for the installation of non-hydrogen alternative fuel vehicle refueling property.
The 2005 Act also put forward a federal tax credit for residential energy efficient property. Initially, the credit included qualified solar electric systems; qualified solar water heaters; qualified fuel cell property; qualified small wind energy property; and qualified geothermal heat pumps. Some of that credit expired after 2016 but the credit for solar electric property and solar water heating property was extended through December 31, 2021 (with a gradual step down).
Energy efficiency improvements to residential homes, including the purchase of certain doors, windows, insulation and the like, were also part of the 2005 Act. Initially, homeowners who made qualifying improvements were generally entitled to a tax credit equal to 10% of the costs, up to a lifetime limit of $500. The credit expired at the end of 2016. However, a tax credit for certain qualifying purchases made in 2017 was re-upped retroactively as part of the 2018 Tax Extenders Agreement. Equipment installed on or after January 1, 2018 is not eligible.
In total, the recent tax extenders package gave the green light for at least 16 incentives for energy production and conservation – but most were only extended through 2017.
Tax credits often “sweeten the deal” for other policy initiatives which is likely why the DST was extended as part of the 2005 Act. The idea behind the extension was that, by extending daylight hours, we would also cut energy consumption. If the day seems longer because it’s light out longer, it should follow that there would be less demand for electricity in the evenings. But that may not be true: It may actually cost us money.
While studies indicate a slight change in demand in the evenings, some studies have indicated that any savings are offset by more energy demand in the morning. And you can’t count out the time spent changing clocks. In 2010, Utah State University economist William F. Shughart II suggested that turning the clocks forward and backward each year results in $1.7 billion of lost opportunity cost each year in the U.S. alone. His calculations assumed that each person over the age of 18 spent about 10 minutes changing clocks instead of doing something more productive. Of course, in a digital-centric world, that number should go down. Should. But as I try to figure out which clocks inside my home actually have the right time, I’m not so sure that’s the case.
Many Americans don’t see the benefit of Daylight Saving Time: just 36% of those polled find it necessary. In 2013, nearly 20% of those polled believed wrongly that you’d move the clocks backward on Sunday for DST (spring ahead, folks) or aren’t quite sure what to do at all. As a result, a whopping 16% of Americans claim DST has made them early or late for an appointment because they didn’t set their clocks the right way (I feel your pain, America).
It’s even more confusing because not everyone in the U.S. observes DST. Hawaii and Arizona (except for residents of the Navajo Nation) do not, nor do American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. And just this year, the Florida legislature voted to send a bill, the Sunshine Protection Act, to Gov. Rick Scott to ask the U.S. Congress to decide whether Florida should move from standard time to daylight saving time year-round. While there is no federal law requiring states to observe daylight saving time, there is a law that requires states which observe it to switch back to standard time at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday in October.
But for the rest of us, DST is an annual annoyance: it’s always the second Sunday in March. So that means I’ll see you back here next year around the same time – assuming I finally get all of those clocks set.