I got my electric bill the other day. $27.75, not bad, but mostly so cheap because we were out of town for 10 days at the end of March. I’m in the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA) service area, and included in this month’s bill was the usual newsletter. This time it included the 2007 annual report.
IREA has consistently taken a opposition stance against development of any type of renewable or sustainable energy source, apparently solely on the basis of cost. Their primary goal appears to be holding on to the Big Coal days for as long as possible in order to stop a few cents-per-kilowatt-hour increase in electricity price to consumers. At $0.09 or $0.10 per kWh, we still enjoy extremely cheap electricity prices compared to other energy sources. (I.e. I pay on average about $60 per month for natural gas, which is only used to heat my house and water. And not to mention gasoline and diesel.)
Most IREA newsletters include some reference to Colorado constitutional amendment 37, which is a requirement for all electric utilities operating in this state to provide and increased portion of electricity production from renewable sources over the next several years. The amendment included a provision for electric cooperatives (like IREA) to “opt-out” of these requirements, if desired by their membership. IREA claims that its “membership voted by a 4 to 1 margin to ‘opt-out.'” However, with the recent passage of Colorado House Bill 1281 (signed by Governor Ritter last month), that provision has been eliminated and now holds all electric utilities to the renewable production requirement. IREA’s constant complaint is that this requirement will raise prices for consumers “while doing little, if anything, to affect our climate.”
IREA conducted a random poll of its members regarding the various proposals and regulations working their way through the legislature. Here are the results, as reported in IREA’s April 2008 newsletter:
- 84% oppose a “carbon tax” which would increase energy costs across the board.
- 78% oppose “retail netmetering” which would require IREA to pay the retail rate to consumers generating their own power.
- 77% oppose an “energy conservation tax.”
- 65% oppose solar rebates paid to consumers who install residential solar energy panels.
I really wish I’d been one of the randomly chosen members to be polled, because I am very curious as to how the questions were asked. “Do you support a carbon tax that would increase energy costs across the board?” will certainly encourage a different response than “Do you support a carbon tax that would encourage electric utilities to limit carbon emissions and develop sustainable and renewable energy sources?”
IREA’s consistent refusal to seriously consider any regulation or generation technology that will increase electric rates in the near-term is a recipe for long-term disaster. Keeping electric rates as low as they are now for as long as possible should not be the goal. But rather a long-term and sustainable plan for electricity generation in the future. I, for one, would much rather live with a modest, predictable annual increase in rates, rather than a 10%-20% jump 10 or 15 years from now.
One the other hand, there is Xcel energy, which provides most of the electricity generation for Colorado, as well as over 90% of the power consumed by IREA. A recent Rocky Mountain News article covered a public hearing held by Xcel energy to “outline how Xcel will meet the Front Range’s growing demand for electricity from 2009 through 2015.” The article reports that Xcel “drew strong criticism” from attendees as well as through over 800 emails the utility had received.
Xcel plans to add 800 megawatts of wind energy and 200 megawatts of solar energy. These renewable generation technologies would be augmented by 800 megawatts of natural gas generation. Apparently the main point of criticism was Xcel’s plans to add the natural gas capacity, as suggested by this quote from the article:
“I don’t like the plans,” said Nancy LaPlaca, who stood outside the building holding a banner that read “We want solar, wind, efficiency.”
What Nancy and others don’t seem to understand is that an electric generation system based solely on wind in solar is not feasible. Tom Henley from Xcel sums up this problem with this statement: “Wind is not a reliable resource. We have to have a resource that can be accessed at a moment’s notice. And that’s why we are proposing 800 megawatts of natural gas to match the 800 megawatts of wind.” Without some sort of storage technology (which I would argue is not developed enough at this time to be ready for large-scale implementation), it is impossible drive a major portion of electrical generation with wind and/or solar alone.
Xcel is one of the more forward-thinking utilities in that they realize the coming demise of fossil fuel generation technologies. Xcel is taking steps now to ensure an intelligent, incremental path to a future powered by renewable sources.
Of course, this all boils down to education, and the fact that most people don’t understand how electricity generation works and the implications behind different generation technologies. I’m no expert, but at least I ask the questions to separate the facts from the propaganda. Unfortunately, others like IREA and Nancy LaPlaca, blindly oppose anything that sounds bad with no consideration of the implications.