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A view of the Toronto Skyline during Earth Hour on Saturday, March 28th shows that many lights remained on.

Roger Hallett/The Globe and Mail

Numbers provided by electricity companies just days after Earth Hour create a perception that the global campaign to get consumers to shut off their lights for one hour is losing some of its punch in Canada.

On Saturday, millions of homes, business, public buildings and monuments around the world observed Earth Hour beginning at 8:30 p.m. local time.

Here in Canada, environmental groups and electricity companies gave consumers a big push in the lead-up to March 28th event. Broadly, it is a symbolic show of support for the environment and action on climate change.

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So what happened to electricity usage in parts of the country for that one hour?

British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland all recorded a reduction in electricity usage – with Yukon recording its best Earth Hour reduction since Yukon Energy started monitoring Earth Hour usage five years ago.

While BC Hydro, the main electricity utility provider, recorded a 15-megawatt drop over the hour, Ontario witnessed a 100-megawatt drop – which is about the average peak demand of the city of Kingston.

Newfoundland's 33-megawatt reduction is less than last year's 38-megawatt drop – but it still adds up to shutting off 825,000 laptop computers or 73,326 clothes washers, or taking 4,700 electrically-heated homes off the grid, according to Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.

In Alberta, Edmonton recorded a 6.3 per cent drop while in Calgary the change was unnoticeable.

But where utility companies have kept records over several years, the numbers tell a different story.

British Columbia, which has witnessed Earth Hour electricity reductions ranging from one to two percent of overall provincial electricity load during previous Earth Hour events, saw a reduction this year of only .2 per cent.

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In Nova Scotia, there was a .03 per cent reduction of overall load – and the trend has been downwards since 2011. Still, the 3.8 megawatt reduction in Nova Scotia during this year's Earth Hour translates in to 292,000 13-watt fluorescent lights.

In Ontario, the 100 megawatt figure is less than one per cent of Ontario demand. Going back to 2008, Earth Hour reductions have ranged from 2 to 6 per cent of overall provincial demand.

A communications officer with Ontario's Independent Electricity System Operator said in an email that the reduction for 2015 appears smaller because conservation is taking place in Ontario thoughout the year.

"While Earth Hour is symbolic, it's driven people to adopt new practices on an ongoing basis: install energy efficient lighting, upgrade to energy efficient appliances, heating and cooling units, programmable thermostats and respond to TOU [time of use] pricing. As a result, conservation and demand response have moved beyond the Earth Hour campaign to significant contributions on the system, year-round," added the official.

The reductions can't entirely be attributed to customers, as utility companies themselves have pointed out.

In Edmonton, the EPCOR Utilities spokesperson told The Edmonton Sun that this past Saturday's Earth Hour was compared with the previous Saturday when it was up to 20 degrees Celsius colder and the Edmonton Oilers were playing a home game – drawing a lot of power to light and run the arena.

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SaskPower, the main electricity utility provider in Saskatchewan, said the average demand on Saturdays in March is about 1,200 megawatts during the 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. period. This past Saturday, the demand dropped to 1,090 megawatts.

"This is a significant improvement on Earth Hour results in 2014 when consumption remained virtually unchanged during Earth Hour. Some of the drop in 2015 may be due to warm temperatures in most areas of the province yesterday [Saturday]," it said.

Getting a grip on what a change in Earth Hour electricity consumption means is not easy.

New Brunswick's NB Power and Manitoba Hydro don't bother monitoring Earth Hour numbers.

"There are too many variables influencing hour-by-hour demand to be able to accurately attribute change in demand to one factor, such as Earth Hour," said a Manitoba Hydro public affairs official in an email.

A Quebec Hydro official did not share exact Earth Hour figures, but did say: "Following verification, we believe that this event has only small effects on the energy consumption of Quebec [the entire province], and therefore possible energy savings. Depending on customer behaviour, consumption for commercial and industrial uses would remain stable, while that associated with residential uses could decline slightly, mainly due to lower domestic lighting needs."

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