Matthew L. Wald and Tom Zeller Jr. in the New York Times report on a disturbing phenomenon that I haven’t seen written about before:
“Even as many politicians, environmentalists and consumers want renewable energy and reduced dependence on fossil fuels, a growing number of projects are being canceled or delayed because governments are unwilling to add even small amounts to consumers’ electricity bills.”
“Similarly, in Kentucky this year, the public service commission voted down a contract for a local utility, Kentucky Power, to buy electricity from NextEra Energy Resources in Illinois.
“According to the commission, Kentucky Power argued that the contract would position the utility ‘to better meet growing environmental requirements and impending government portfolio mandates for renewable energy’ and that it would benefit customers.
“But Kentucky’s attorney general, Jack Conway, joined by business and industrial electricity users, opposed the deal, contending that it would have increased a typical residential customer’s rates by about 0.7% and was ‘a discretionary expense’ that the utility’s customers could ill afford.'”
Obviously, this could be the start of something that could send a nasty ripple throughout the research-engineering-manufacturing-installation chain. Without long-term iron-clad purchase agreements, development of renewables, including nuclear, is going to shut down in the U.S. (and those researchers/projects/investors will go elsewhere).
My guess is that the amount of fiduciary leeway varies quite a bit from state to state, and the officials and commissions/boards making these decisions will, to greater and lesser degrees, try to wrap themselves up in fiduciary defenses. And get away with it. Given that utility commissions nearly always play in a land of make believe when it comes to the real costs of energy, these decisions to defend “customers” however seems to be a laughable but probably legal.
Nevertheless, if the commissions want to represent public interests, let’s take a look at what the public wants:
• 75% of Americans agree that is it time to take steps for renewable energy and to get on the path to energy independence. Nineteen percent disagree with this position and 6% do not know. Among those age 18-34 agreement with this statement is as high as 80%, the highest of any age group. (Source: Clean Energy & Climate Issues Survey (PDF), Oct. 26, 2010, conducted on behalf of the Civil Society Institute.)
• 74% agree that “(a) national energy strategy based on a ‘phasing in’ of new technologies and a phasing out of carbon based energy sources would require specific actions. America should commit to a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired plants and, instead, focus on aggressive expansion of wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. Tax and other incentives should be provided for all new construction to help reduce energy consumption. Homeowners should get incentives to make their homes more energy efficient to help reduce energy demands.” (Source: Clean Energy & Climate Issues Survey, Oct. 26, 2010, conducted on behalf of the Civil Society Institute.)
• 68% see the U.S. as weak or very weak on “practical, problem-solving solutions” and leadership in relation to “energy independence and dealing with climate change or global warming.” (Source: Clean Energy & Climate Issues Survey, Oct. 26, 2010, conducted on behalf of the Civil Society Institute.)
• “Fully 87% of Americans favor including a provision in comprehensive energy legislation to require utilities to produce more energy from wind, solar or other renewable sources. More than three-quarters (78%) favor tougher efficiency standards for building and major appliances.” (Source: National Survey, Oct. 27, 2010, conducted by Pew Research Center for People and the Press.)
• “In general, the public thinks that protecting the environment should be a more important priority than keeping energy prices low (by 56% to 37%). (Source: Congressional Connection Poll, June. 14, 2010, conducted by Pew Research Center for People and the Press/National Journal.)
At least someone is being honest. Again from the Times piece:
“One of the problems in the United States is that we haven’t been willing to confront the tough questions,” said Paul Gipe, who sits on the steering committee of the Alliance for Renewable Energy, a group advocating energy policy reform.
“We have to ask ourselves, ‘Do we really want renewables?’ ” he said. “And if the answer to that is yes, then we’re going to have to pay for them.”