Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Just The Facts, Ma'am

(H/T to Joe Friday for the title.)

Today is Earth Day.
Each year, Earth Day -- April 22 -- marks the anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.

The height of hippie and flower-child culture in the United States, 1970 brought the death of Jimi Hendrix, the last Beatles album, and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. Protest was the order of the day, but saving the planet was not the cause. War raged in Vietnam, and students nationwide increasingly opposed it.

At the time, Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. “Environment” was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees than on the evening news.  Although mainstream America remained oblivious to environmental concerns, the stage had been set for change by the publication of Rachel Carson's New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962.  The book represented a watershed moment for the modern environmental movement, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries and, up until that moment, more than any other person, Ms. Carson raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and public health.

Earth Day 1970 capitalized on the emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement and putting environmental concerns front and center.
Like a few other aspects of the progressive movement, I find myself in agreement with their intentions...

... but turned off by their extremism and holier-than-thou attitude. So I have mixed emotions about the following story.

Oklahoma To Charge Homeowners Who Install Solar Panels
Oklahoma residents who produce their own energy through solar panels or small wind turbines on their property will now be charged an additional fee, the result of a new bill passed by the state legislature and expected to be signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

On Monday, S.B. 1456 passed the state House 83-5 after no debate. The measure creates a new class of customers: those who install distributed power generation systems like solar panels or small wind turbines on their property and sell the excess energy back to the grid. While those with systems already installed won’t be affected, the new class of customers will now be charged a monthly fee — a shift that happened quickly and caught many in the state off guard.

“We knew nothing about it and all of a sudden it’s attached to some other bill,” Ctaci Gary, owner of Sun City Oklahoma, told ThinkProgress. “It just appeared out of nowhere.”

The bill was staunchly opposed by renewable energy advocates, environmental groups and the conservative group TUSK, but had the support of Oklahoma’s major utilities. “Representatives of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma said the surcharge is needed to recover some of the infrastructure costs to send excess electricity safely from distributed generation back to the grid,” the Oklahoman reported.
Once again a legislative body passes a law in the dark of night (i.e., quietly slipping it in as a rider to an unrelated bill) that benefits special interests -- in this case, public utility companies -- to the detriment of the general public.

You'd think that utilities would be in favor of home-installed renewable energy generators. After all, they take some load off the grid during peak demand times, preventing brownouts or rolling blackouts. They put off the need for new power plants, reducing capital costs. They reduce maintenance costs on existing equipment and transmission facilities.

For the rest of us, solar and wind powered homes help with clean air efforts, reduce greenhouse gases, provide employment and small business opportunities, and generally make positive contributions to our overall quality of life.  So why are utilities fighting the trend? Two words: lost revenue.

Actually, the utilities refer to it as the “utility death spiral.”
"...as customers choose to install solar panels or adopt energy efficiency measures, a utility will sell fewer units of energy and has to increase what it charges for electricity to ensure that it can still cover its fixed costs, such as grid maintenance and labor. As energy prices go up, more customers will look to energy efficiency and distributed energy resources to reduce their energy bills, which will continue to push electricity prices up and drive customers toward other energy sources and services."
While that may sound like a reasonable argument, keep in mind that "rooftop solar makes up less than a quarter of 1 percent of the electricity produced in the U.S."

So at this point I'm sympathetic towards the solar/wind supporters. But then they had to go and spoil it.
As the use of solar power skyrockets across the U.S., fights have sprung up in several states over how much customers should be compensated for excess power produced by their solar panels and sold back to the grid — a policy known as net metering. Net metering laws have come under fire from the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group backed by fossil fuel corporations, utility companies, and the ultra-conservative Koch brothers.
Ah, yes ... the evil, "ultra-conservative" Koch brothers.

I guess it's too much to expect an informed debate on the merits. We have to drag our ideologies into it. Granted, the right does it just as much as the left, but it's still disappointing, no matter which side it comes from.

And it distracts us from focusing on the issues at hand...


Old NFO said...

Distractions... It's what it is ALL about!!!

CenTexTim said...

Keep the right hand in the dark about what the left hand is doing...