In recent years, "we've had a transformation," Alan Meier tells me. "We've gone from a situation where most object have a hard off. Now, most any product you buy is most likely going to draw power all the time."

Meier is an energy analyst with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and I interviewed him for a column in this morning's paper about the dribble of electricity required to keep many of our appliances and electronic devices on "standby."

Not all of it is waste. Sometimes it's convenient to have the WiFi router on all the time instead of constantly rebooting.

Some energy leakage is necessary — as in Meier's example of the "ground fall circuit interrupts" in many bathroom outlets (the ones with the little reset button), which are constantly watching, making sure no one is being electrocuted.

But still, nationwide we spend more than $3 billion a year on "vampire" energy, being sucked away by appliances.

Maybe if you haven't subbed out a lot of your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents, or if you haven't insulated your hot water heater and the hot water pipes leading from it, it's silly to be running around unplugging cell phone chargers.

But then again, it's not only free, it can also make you money.
For an example of how things can add up, just ask the folks in Juneau, Alaska.

A month ago, an avalanche cut the town off from its cheap source of hydroelectric power. Since then, people are doing everything they can to trim their power use, including turning off devices that drain energy.

And not just to help out the town. Electric rates have shot from 11 cents a kilowatt-hour to 53.

Lights have been dimmed, elevators shut down, Nintendos turned off. In a matter of weeks, the town has cut electricity use by 30 percent.

Here's a fascinating story about what they're doing.