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While I will be the first to admit that a lot of the information transmitted in our Board meetings is complicated and heavy with numbers and decimal points that is really no excuse for making the kind of whopping mistakes in this article. The simple facts are that we need a small (2%) increase in our net electric power revenue to amortize the cost of building a new energy delivery point for our city. We are implementing that increase on January 1. At the same time, TVA is passing along a similarly small rate decrease (as part of their quarterly fuel cost adjustment) and their decrease combined with our increase will result in a small net decrease in kWh charges for all of our customers. Also, at the same time, we are adjusting the “customer charge” portion of our billing for most rate classes. The customer charge is the portion of the bill that assures us some revenue from a meter that is just sitting there for a month and passing no energy. The philosophy here is that we still have expenses in reading the meter, maintaining the plant serving the meter, sending out billing, etc., even if the meter is using no energy. So, to make sure that everyone pays their fair share, we have this charge, which everyone pays every month, before they even start using any energy.
The newspaper got this all confused. At your home you pay $8.29 per month now for that customer charge and on January 1 that goes up to $10.00. If you operate a small business, you already pay $10 per month for the customer charge (NOT $10 per kWh!) and we are not changing that. Larger businesses will see this charge increase from $25 per month to $45 per month and still larger businesses will see an increase from $25 per month to $120 per month. But none of those businesses will be paying $25, $45, or $120 per kWh! How on earth such figures as the ones in the newspaper could get by any copy editor is beyond by ability to comprehend. A kWh generally costs about seven cents in Glasgow. If anyone paid $10 or $25 per kWh as the newspaper indicates, they would be seeing monthly bills at their home and small businesses in the $25,000 per month range! I’m quite sure this would greatly disappoint our customers.
So, if you read this story and had chest pains, please take an aspirin and relax. Your kWh charge is actually going down a small amount on January 1. Your customer charge, for most of you, is going up a little. That is all there is to it.
Of course, the truth is that their members are having to build more broadband facilities (at a snail's pace) due to the fear of losing customers to more fleet-footed competitors. These competitors, like the Glasgow EPB, are never as wealthy or well financed as the members of ConnectKentucky, but, curiously, they have always been able to raise their own capital and purchase their own hardware without asking the State to fund them. This is not the case for the ConnectKentucky folks. They feel that the likes of AT&T, Windstream, and others similar poor and downtrodden telecommunications companies should get money from the Kentucky Revenue Cabinet to help them do what they have been responsible for doing for decades.
But don't just take my word for it. This link will take you to an article on ConnectKentucky by a real live journalist who is qualified to expand on the snake oil that CK (even under their new nation-wide moniker of Connected Nation), is trying to serve to all of our elected representatives.
Would you not be ashamed to lobby the Kentucky Legislature for additional funding for already wealthy companies when the finances of our Commonwealth are already so dire? That is not my word, those are the words of our new Governor as expressed on the front page of today's Courier Journal. Normal folks would be ashamed, but ConnectKentucky is not. During the holidays if you should happen to run across one of our legislators, let them know that you are watching them and ConnectKentucky and that the bill they are trying to sneak through in the next legislative session must die as well as ALL future funding for this cabal.
Of course, this sort of attempt to further enrich the already rich is not new and it was not invented by ConnectKentucky. Rather, this is a continuation of the river of greed that cuts so deeply through the landscape of our republic. More than a century ago, Orestes A. Brownson wrote in The American Republic, "The men of wealth, the business men, manufacturers and merchants, bankers and brokers, are the men who exert the worst influence on government in every country. . . . They act on the beautiful maxim, 'Let the government take care of the rich, and the rich will take care of the poor', instead of the far safer maxim, 'Let government take care of the weak, the strong can take care of themselves.'" Are these words not still true today? Are we going to do anything to make sure our elected officials recognize this truth?
So I make this simple suggestion, let's make the safe assumption that the members of ConnectKentucky are the strong, and they should get the heck out of our state legislature and get busy taking care of themselves. Let's drive this message home whenever and wherever we can.
In the blog I was reminded about a really talented author, Michael Pollan and some of his wonderful books on the subject of our food system. In particular I became interested in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and I decided I wanted to read that book.
So, next I clicked on the link from our www.glasgow-ky.com page to the Mary Wood Weldon Memorial Library site. If you have not visited this site you are missing out on one of our great community assets. By clicking on the Online Catalog link on their homepage you get access to the whole database of books housed at the local library! Once in the on-line catalog I simply entered the author’s name and found that the library does indeed have a copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and that it was available to be checked out. Next, I just clicked on the little link to reserve the book and within twenty minutes I got a call from the fine staff at the library letting me know that the book was at the front desk awaiting my arrival to pick it up! Is that cool or what?
If you are one of the thousands of local folks who pay taxes to help fund the library but never utilize it, you should give it a new look. If you visit the real building you will find that it has been face-lifted inside and is very comfortable and inviting. If you use your internet service to visit it on-line, you will find the site bristling with new technology and great opportunities to re-establish your relationship with the library and its wonderful collection of books. Either way, you will come away with a new appreciation for this wonderful community asset. You might even come away with a great book like The Omivore’s Dilemma and some new ideas about how our community can create a sustainable economy. Check it out!
Where power outages are concerned, this was really not a big one nor was it particularly long lasting. However, it did point up some interesting phenomena relative to our power system and what happens during a power interruption that you might be interested to know. This outage occurred because our power system was severely damaged on November 5 and many parts of the power network are still undergoing extensive repairs. In particular, this outage was caused by the failure of some temporary jumpers installed on our transmission line, near the intersection of Samson Street and Front Street. They failed during a wind gust and fell down across a 12,470 volt distribution circuit constructed at a lower position on the transmission poles. Since these jumpers were connected to the ground, a short circuit occurred and relays at Front Street Substation automatically opened the distribution circuit. If you were awake (and from the phone calls we got it is obvious a lot of folks were), you saw this as a blink followed immediately by your lights flashing back on and then blinking back off (this is the automatic sequence we have programmed into substation circuit breakers to open circuits when a fault occurs and then attempt to reclose the circuit several times in the hope that the fault clears). If you watched closely you then saw your lights stay off for five seconds and then flash back on followed by them going off again for one minute before flashing back on one more time. After the one minute pause the relays are programmed to give up on the process. It is at that point that we call the breaker “locked out” and human intervention is then required.
My house happened to be one of the five hundred affected by this outage. I was awakened by the emergency lighting coming on in my bedroom and I knew just what those flashes of light meant . . . a locked out circuit breaker. Now, at 1 a.m. we do not have folks at work. Instead, we are doing the same thing that you are doing, we are all asleep. So, it takes a few minutes for us to roll out of bed, find clothes in the dark, find our way out of the house, figure out how to get the garage door open without power, drive to the office, and figure out how to disarm our security system so we can get in the building. Since I live so close to the EPB office, I am often the first one there on these occasions and this was one of those times. I got there less than fifteen minutes after the breaker locked out and several more members of the EPB team were close behind.
When you walk in the EPB dispatch center at 1 a.m. to start evaluating a power outage you are immediately faced with a dilemma. There are always hundreds of folks calling in on the phone and, since we are very concerned with our customer calls, there is one force pulling on you to start answering the phone. But, answering phone calls that go along the lines of “What is wrong with my power/When will it be back on?/Can you get my house back on first?”, accomplish nothing toward actually figuring out what is going on and calling in the right folks and equipment to start repairs. So we are immediately torn between the phone and our computer and radio systems which we know will lead to fixing the problem. Much of this dilemma could be eliminated by our customers refraining from calling in unless they heard or saw something that might help us fix the problem. Just calling in to become the 300th person to tell us about an outage that we already knew about anyway is not productive for any of us. In general, if your lights go off at 1 a.m., and you note that all the street lights are also off as well as all your neighbors, you are just wasting time and resources when you call in. In addition, if you call in less than twenty minutes after the lights go off, you will be talking to someone who just woke up themselves and is struggling to put their pants on. The person answering the phone will not know what happened, they will not know where it happened and they will not know how long it will take to undo this unknown event. We are not psychic and we generally sleep at night just like you. We need a few minutes to get up, get dressed, get in, and get on our computers to see what they can tell us. I can testify that the first fifty calls I answered this morning all asked what the problem was, and it was our time spent on those phone calls that was keeping us from finding the answer to that problem!
As I said in my previous post on this very forum, these things are going to happen more often, especially in the days and weeks after a massive storm event wherein much of our system was damaged and only repaired temporarily. Repairs are not complete because of the other severe weather in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa taking all of our contractors away. They all packed up and left to help rescue the one million folks who were without power in that region. So, please, prepare for outages. When they occur, stay calm and know that my team is on the case and will have your power back on as soon as humanly possible. We will be the ones rushing to the EPB office while half-dressed. You can be the ones who just roll back over and go back to sleep!
I have an opinion on what is causing the rapid changes to our climate, but, since I am not an expert in the field, I will refrain from sharing that opinion. But no matter what force is causing the changes, surely we can all agree that our climate is warming and mother nature is changing her habits. For those of us entrusted with designing, operating, and maintaining electric power delivery networks, this warming is sending a cold chill down our spines.
Electric power networks are complicated and relatively difficult even when things are “normal,” but they are becoming downright unstable in the new climate we are facing. For example, since the 1940's the industry has had general engineering data that our part of the country should only expect 1/4 inch of ice to accumulate on our outdoor hardware and that no more than four pounds per square foot of wind will blow against that accumulated ice. Those given factors gave rise to everything we chose to build our networks. The diameter of the poles, the strength of the downguys and anchors, the holding capacity of the insulators and the strength of the conductors all have been chosen based upon those expected conditions. Now those conditions are changing.
Now, bare wires carrying very high voltages form the basis for a network which is dangerous and, as I said earlier, a bit unstable to begin with. When extremely long periods of 100 degree temperatures are added, stressing the insulators, transformers, fittings, and other paraphernalia that we use to deliver energy to your homes, the networks perform poorly. When wind and ice far in excess of what the lines were designed to withstand are added to the equation, the result is . . . well, headlines like the one mentioned above. But there are other new stresses being applied to our power network as well. These don’t get any attention, but they are enemies of reliable networks as well.
One of those enemies, appropriate for this holiday season, is the ghost of Christmas Past. By that I mean we are all haunted by the things we have done wrong in the past. Perhaps the worst of the past sins committed by the EPB was constructing so many power lines along the rear lot lines of new residential developments instead of in the front of the lots. When we built power lines in back yards, we guaranteed ourselves terrible problems in the future, and that future has arrived. Over the years the general prosperity of folks in many neighborhoods lead to the accumulation of the trappings of wealth. Swimming pools, extensive landscaping, cherished trees, garages, outbuildings, and fences have rendered the average power line constructed along a rear lot-line totally inaccessible to us and our equipment. Combine that past sin with the changing climate of today, and you have a reliable recipe for unreliable electric power. These issues cause us to spend twelve hours repairing storm damage that might have been repaired in four hours if the lines were in an accessible location. The real problem here is that a few folks can, quite innocently, make decisions that turn their back yards into minefields for our personnel and those decisions can result in hundreds of folks being in the dark for those excess hours. It also subjects our personnel to far more dangerous work environments, and the work they do is already dangerous enough!
While we can identify the changes in climate and the dramatic effect those changes are having on our weather right here in Glasgow, and we can identify these sins of the past that add to our problems in repairing the damage caused by extreme weather, we cannot fix them anytime soon. The design and construction materials we use to build power networks are not changing anywhere near as rapidly as the climate is and we are not about to wake up on Christmas morning, like Jacob Marley did, and find that all of this was just a dream and that keeping Christmas in our heart will fix our problems. No, our sins of the past are real and cannot be changed any more rapidly than they developed over the many decades which elapsed before today.
The only thing you can do to immediately seek refuge from these ghostly visitations is to prepare. Take a look around your home and think about how you would use it as a tent in a rustic camping area with no electricity or water. Think about having to camp out in your home for at least a week without any of the modern technology that you have come to rely upon. Do you have what you would need? Is there a few gallons of clean drinking water available? Do you have an alternative heat source, something like a kerosene heater, or a fireplace, with a supply of fuel for that heat source? Do you have a battery operated radio and a supply of fresh batteries? Do you have a grill prepared for cooking food at your campsite? Do you keep a supply of food items that can be cooked on said grill? If you cannot answer all of these questions affirmatively, then I suggest you buy yourself something you can really use for Christmas . . . camping equipment and supplies! I promise you they will be the right size and will be utilized sooner or later. I hate to say it, but it is true.
ConnectKentucky is simply a front for protecting the interests of incumbent telephone and cable companies. The very idea that they have some claim to the proliferation of broadband in Kentucky is laughable. Broadband, if one can even call DSL broadband, is available in Kentucky due to the vigorous lead exerted by several municipalities in Kentucky. The big telephone and cable companies have responded, as Adam Smith predicted in 1776 when Smith noted that: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.", by starting the process of upgrading their networks as competitive pressures have been brought to bear. Although Smith had no idea what a broadband network was, he was still accurately describing the perfect model for broadband deployment. If a community wants more bandwidth than the local telephone or cable company wants to deploy, then they should be totally free to deploy it themselves and attempt to interrupt the telephone or cable company's "interest."
Now ConnectKentucky wants to claim credit for what the marketplace hath wrought, and they also are determined to convince the Commonwealth of Kentucky to finance their efforts. They spend their time going around the state asking local decision-makers to participate in their sham "county planning" while their real mission is to wrap themselves in a false cloak of altruism so no one will notice when they try to annex our state legislature for their benefit. They would like for the Kentucky legislature to fund their snake oil wagon so the "poor" members of the coalition (the incumbent telephone companies and their stock holders) don't have to continue paying for their "groundbreaking" activity. Further, they see themselves as such geniuses that their model should be spread far and wide in other states. What a joke!
Even now they are planning a piece of legislation and seeking the support of the leadership of the Kentucky Legislature for this ridiculous legislation. They want tax breaks for their members (the big telephone companies like AT&T and WindStream and other similarly well heeled corporations) while shutting out any similar support for the real Kentucky innovators, the municipalities who have spent their own money building real broadband networks while the telecommunications giants simply look for ways to line their pockets at the expense of the people of Kentucky.
This bill attempts to allow the big telephone and cable companies to keep 15% of the tax revenue you pay on your telephone and cable bills each month. You see, they need this extra money to pay for the "huge" investments they are making in Kentucky to deliver broadband services to you and me. The bill then would have the State paying everyone who buys broadband services for the first time (from those same rich telephone and cable companies) a $250 reward. That's right, they want taxpayers to help them build their networks and then have the State pay folks to connect to that network and start paying the phone company charges for the services. I'm telling you, you cannot even make this stuff up!
Everyone should contact their state legislators and ask them to oppose ConnectKentucky's latest attempt to feather their own nest. If there are excess state funds to help build more broadband networks (and we really doubt that there are), at least make sure that the municipally owned, not-for-profit networks have an equal chance to benefit from those funds. In fact, why not let any incentives go directly to the consumers to help them pay for broadband services instead of sending the money to the telephone companies? The new ConnectKentucky bill would need to be radically altered to allow that to happen, but it sure would be a much better bill if it did.
This change in newsletter format is just a part of our bigger project to totally revamp the way we communicate with our customers. Our billing is going to change, most likely in February or March, to a totally new look which we trust you will find much easier to read and understand. Upon that change, we will likely start printing a brief summary of the newsletter information on the back of the new bills (that way those without access to a computer or internet will still be able to get some of the latest information about the EPB and the work we are doing), but that too will just be a short-term solution. The other part of our plan is to launch a new, full-color magazine which will be delivered quarterly (hopefully starting in April 2008). When this launches we will have much of the same information in it as we used to put in the newsletter, along with other timely and exciting items of interest to our customers. So, when all the pieces fall into place, we will be communicating with you via this blog (virtually daily), via our new billing format as extra text on the back of the bill, and finally through a new magazine that will be delivered four times a year. The really good thing about all of this is that we should be getting you much more information and still saving a lot of money over the way we have been printing the newsletter and mailing the bills in the past. This appears to be a win-win for everyone.
Electric Power Rate Change. If you get your electricity from the EPB, there is another matter we need to discuss a bit this month. Recently our Board approved a rate increase of about 2% for electric power, billed after January 1, 2008. If you are a regular reader of this newsletter, you have heard about our plans to reinforce the electric power grid in Glasgow by adding a second primary delivery point substation on the east side of town. The rate increase is designed to raise the funds necessary to build this project which is estimated to cost about $6 million. However, there is more to this story, and, amazingly, it means we are getting a lucky break (and after our recent run of bad luck relative to the November 5 storm that hit our buildings, we need a lucky break)!
Our luck comes in the form of the TVA Fuel Cost Adjustment (FCA). This is the mechanism whereby TVA adjusts our rates each quarter depending on their cost of fuel during the previous quarter. The good news is that the TVA FCA will result in an actual decrease on January 1. The really good news is that the TVA FCA decrease will be larger than the 2% increase that we need to put in place to finance our new substation. So, your electric rates will actually stay about the same on January 1, 2008! Merry Christmas indeed! Of course, all good things tend to come to an end and TVA will get another shot at the FCA in April, but until then enjoy the electric power rate stability.
Recently Bill Moyers, one of the last of the dying breed of real journalists who consider their craft a responsibility to the rest of us to deliver the unvarnished truth, was given a Freedom of Speech Award at the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. His poignant remarks follow:
Thank you for this recognition and the spirit of the evening. Thanks especially for giving me the chance to sit here awhile thinking about my father. Henry Moyers was an ordinary man who dropped out of the fourth grade because his family needed him to pick cotton to help make ends meet. The Depression knocked him off the farm and flat on his back. When I was born he was making two dollars a day working on the highway to Oklahoma City. He never made over $100 a week in the whole of his working life, and he made that only when he joined the union on the last job he held. He voted for Franklin Roosevelt in four straight elections, and he would have gone on voting for him until kingdom come if both had lived that long. I once asked him why, and he said, "Because the President's my friend." Now, my father never met FDR. No politician ever paid him much note, but he was sure he had a friend in the White House during the worst years of his life. When by pure chance I wound up working there many years later, and my parents came for a visit, my father wanted to see the Roosevelt Room. I don't know quite how to explain it, except that my father knew who was on his side and who wasn't, and for twelve years he had no doubt where FDR stood. The first time I remember him with tears in his eyes was when Roosevelt died. He had lost his friend.
We can't revive the man and certainly we wouldn't want to revisit the times, but we can rekindle the spirit. There are 37 million people in this country who are poor; there are 57 million who are near poor, making $20,000 to $40,000 a year--one divorce, one pink slip, one illness away from a free fall. That's almost one-third of America still living on the edge. They need a friend in the White House. My father, with his fourth-grade education and two fingers with the missing tips from the mix-up at the cotton gin, got it when Roosevelt spoke. "I can't talk like him," he said, "but I sure do think like him." My father might not have had the words for it, but he said amen when FDR talked about economic royalism. Sitting in front of our console radio, he got it when Roosevelt said that private power no less than public power can bring America to ruin in the absence of democratic controls.
Don't think for a moment he didn't get it when Roosevelt said that a government by money was as much to be feared as a government by mob, or when he said that the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. My father got it when he heard his friend in the White House talk about how "a small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor--other people's lives." My father knew FDR was talking for him when he said life was no longer free, liberty no longer real, men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness--against economic tyranny such as this. And my father listened raptly when his friend the President said, "The American citizen"--my father knew the President was speaking of him--"could appeal only to the organized power of government."
So thank you for reminding us that liberalism is less about ideology and doctrine than about friendship and faith--the bond between a patrician in the White House and a working man on the Texas-Oklahoma border and their mutual belief in America as a shared project. Thank you for this reminder of how we might yet turn the listing ship of state. My father thanks you, too.
Like everyone in town, the recent dry vs. moist campaign had made me feel like Glasgow was a community prepared to go to war with itself. I wondered if we were so different from other parts of the world where arguments about religion eventually result in battles of flesh. But several marvelous things happened in the aftermath of the great wind that made me feel we are going to be OK.
As we looked out our windows at the EPB around 4:30 p.m. on November 5, the rain quickly became some sort of semisolid mass of energy and visibility out our windows dropped to about 12 inches. Immediately we decided to gather up the customers who were in the lobby and everyone on the staff and make our way to our new Jama M Young Technology Center for refuge. Once in the bunker we quickly opened our “war room” and got folks set up to answer phones and dispatch our repair crews. As we awaited to hear from our technicians about what vehicles were mobile, we ventured out of the bunker to take in a horrifying sight. The warehouse building which housed many of our vehicles and our inventory of hardware that we would need to start affecting repairs on our networks was totally destroyed! So, job one for our team became figuring out how to free up our vehicles so we could go about our work of repairing Glasgow’s energy and information infrastructure. As I watched, members of the EPB who were highly trained linemen and telecommunications technicians, suddenly morphed into search and rescue personnel and they invented many ways to peel back the remains of a damaged building and rescue the equipment necessary to go about rescuing the lifestyle of the community. It was a beautiful thing to behold. Further, as the evening went on, contractors and construction experts began to arrive and help us make sane and safe decisions about what other equipment could be rescued from the building. Clearly, Glasgow was starting to function as a community again instead of an association of warring factions.
For several hours after that, most of the EPB staff was in a windowless bunker poring over information from our computer systems, directing repair efforts via radio, inventing plans to feed energy around damaged and missing portions of our network, and talking with our customers. However, the community was coming to our rescue in other ways without our even knowing it. Perhaps three hours into the event I emerged from the war room to just look out the windows, and I saw this wonderful sight. Local DES folks had already found mobile lighting systems, delivered them to our site, and taken over the job of rerouting traffic along the 31E Bypass in front of the EPB building. You see, four transmission poles had been snapped off and were still lying along the Bypass, and there were hours and hours of work to be performed in trying to set that portion of our network right. While we would have eventually gotten the job done, it would have taken several days longer if we had not had the help from local emergency services folks in controlling traffic and providing a safe area for us to work. Again, Glasgow was emerging as a unified community.
Our efforts to repair the damage were met with great fortune in many ways. Obviously, the amount of damage far exceeded our in-house staff’s capacity to repair quickly. Luckily, we already had crews from Pike Electric and Bowlin Energy doing planned improvements to our electric system. They were willing to drop that planned work and help us accomplish this new amount of unplanned work. We were so lucky to have them here!
Another great twist of fate was that the damage to our fiber optic network was minimal. Those poles in front of our office carry hundreds of fiber optic circuits. If they had broken in a slightly different manner, we would still be out splicing our fiber. However, after it was all said and done, only about 24 fibers were damaged and they were in parts of town other than right in front of our office. As a result, most everyone in town had cable television, telephone, and internet service restored with their electric power. Those that did suffer interruptions were all generally back in service within 24 hours. We count this as a blessing as well. Another indication that Glasgow people had decided to put away their differences and work together was that our customers were very understanding throughout this whole event. Even though a UK basketball game and critical election results were in danger of being missed due to broken fiber cables, folks were content and many local businesses even used the time to fix us food and drinks and do other things to comfort our hard-working folks in the field.
All told, this event was a demonstration that we need to be ever-vigilant in designing our infrastructure to withstand harsh and unexpected events. We do a lot of that. We build redundant circuits so we have options to serve our customers even when the planned routes become unavailable. We are also quite proud of our vision to build the new Technology Center. There were critics of this move. I remember reading comments from one fellow that said our decision to build the bunker was foolish because everyone knows that if a tornado should hit our campus, all of our other pole-mounted facilities would be destroyed anyway, so the building was a waste. I wish I could recall who that was now, because he was dead wrong. Most of all I am happy with the performance of my team and the community as a whole. The EPB team seems to have most of its communications with customers when they are mad or upset because something is not working or going well for them. As a result, we sometimes slip into feeling that our efforts are not often appreciated and that our constant planning for events that are “over the horizon” is just overkill. Then, along comes an event like this when the community proves that we are appreciated and that our plans provided the continuity of service that we had in mind, and we fall back in love with Glasgow all over again.
So, I thank my team for being an amazingly talented group of public servants. My team thanks you, our customers, the YES’s, the NO’s, the big, the small, the short, and the tall, for understanding our plight after the storm and doing everything that you did to help us through it. We will keep building networks that deliver you the standard of living you asked us to provide and we will love doing it!
After a really rocky process of gestation, the Glasgow EPB was born and then took over the facilities formerly owned and operated by Kentucky Utilities and began the process of building and operating a power grid with the purpose of assuring abundant and low-cost electric power to serve our population. Now, it seems like a very simple idea that no one would quarrel with, but in the late 50's, it was quite controversial. Still, the idea of operating an electric grid as a tool to spur local economic development and to facilitate a sustainable and durable economic future for Glasgow finally won all the arguments, and most of the local citizenry would now agree that it was a great idea.
Twenty years ago the EPB started discussing the idea that robust broadband networks would likely be another crucial element in the future success of our local economy. Like the discussions fifty years ago which lead to the creation of the EPB, those discussions started small but soon developed into a full-blown vision of a new way to assure the long-term vitality of our local economy. As that vision was adopted by the EPB and recommended, controversy, not unlike that which accompanied the initial birth of the EPB, came rather quickly. A locally owned and operated broadband network meant full-blown competition with incumbent cable television companies and telephone companies. They howled and complained and, filed lawsuits. Still, the EPB built the first municipally-owned broadband network in the US, and it is still building it and refining it today. This network, like the electric network which proceeded it by thirty years, has become an essential element to our local economy and to our daily lives.
However, electric power and broadband telecommunications cannot, by themselves, provide us a safe and happy existence in Glasgow. Other commodities like water, food, and jobs are also necessary. It is certain that the fine folks at the Glasgow Water Company are doing a great job on making sure we have a plentiful supply of water. It is also certain that, if we provide a robust electric power network and broadband network and water/sewer systems, industrial and retail jobs will continue to come take advantage of those systems. But, have you thought about our position relative to assuring our food supply? Well, until recently, I’m not certain any of us were really thinking about that, but the same genetic strain of good will and intelligence that started those folks fifty years ago thinking about Glasgow’s energy future is still alive and flourishing in our community!
There is a group among us, lead by one Kimberly Page, that is worrying about sustaining our food supply in the face of a future fraught with great change and uncertainty. We should all be thankful and supportive of the work they are doing. Just to help illustrate how important this work is, let’s just review a few startling facts about the way we eat today. It is certain that everyone reading this is painfully aware of the spiraling cost of gasoline, diesel fuel, and electric power. However, did you realize how all of this comes together to threaten our food supply? Did you know that average bite of food that we eat has traveled fifteen hundred miles before it reaches your lips? Well, it is true, and therein lies the reason that communities like Glasgow should be looking at establishing local ownership of a food delivery system which is not solely reliant upon super farms in remote areas growing and processing our food to be shipped to us on a truck. Thankfully, this local group, which is now calling itself Green Market Cooperative (www.greenmarketcoop.com), is taking on this problem on our behalf.
A few months ago a friend recommended that I read a book by Bill McKibben, Deep Economy. I recommend you all do the same thing. It is available at the Mary Wood Weldon Memorial Library. But until you take in the whole book, let’s share some information from it just to whet your appetite.
Modern agriculture produces a lot of food, and produces it cheaply, two feats that people have spent all of human history trying to achieve. The engine of this achievement has been, for a century, relentless consolidation and concentration, a process that is by now very nearly complete in the United States and is still accelerating elsewhere. Four companies slaughter 81 percent of American beef. Cargill, Inc., controls 45 percent of the globe’s grain trade, while its competitor Archer Daniels Midland controls another 30 percent . . . Eighty-nine percent of American chickens are produced under contract to big companies, usually in broiler houses up to five hundred feet long holding thirty thousand or more birds. Four multinational companies control over 70 percent of fluid milk sales in the United States, and one Ohio “farm” produces 3 billion eggs per year. Four firms control 85 percent of global coffee roasting, and a small group of multinationals handles 80 percent of the world trade in cocoa, pineapples, tea, and bananas. The merger of Philip Morris and Nabisco in 2000 created a food conglomerate that collects nearly 10 cents of every dollar an American consumer spends on food. Meanwhile, five companies control 75 percent of the global vegetable seed market, and their grip on the market is tightening as the seed companies patent more and more genetically modified varieties and prevent seed saving. As a former Monsanto executive boasted not long ago, “What you are seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies, it’s really a consolidation of the entire food chain.”
But there’s also another potential cost to our food system, one we’ve just begun to understand in the wake of 9/11: any enterprise so centralized is exquisitely vulnerable to sabotage.
. . .We assume, because it makes a certain kind of intuitive sense, that industrialized farming is the most productive farming. I mean, if I sit on my porch whittling toothpicks with my Swiss Army knife, I can produce a hundred in a day. If I install a toothpick-whittling machine, I can produce a thousand in an hour. By analogy, a vast Midwestern field filled with high-tech equipment ought to produce more food than someone with a hoe in a small garden. As it turns out, however, this simply isn’t true. If all you are worried about is the greatest yield per acre, then smaller farms produce more food. Which, if you think about it some more, makes sense. If you are one guy on a tractor responsible for thousands of acres, you grow your corn and that’s about all you can do: one pass after another with the gargantuan machines across your sea of crop. But if you’re working on ten acres, then you have time to really know the land, and to make it work harder. You can intercrop all kinds of plants: their roots will go to different depths, or they’ll thrive in each other’s shade, or they’ll make use of different nutrients in the soil. You can also walk your fields, over and over, noticing. As one small farmer recently wrote in Farming magazine, spending part of every day in the pasture gives you a “grass eye,” “a keen awareness” of where small seeps of water are muddying the fields, or whether “earthworms and other soil life are properly disposing of cow pies.” Yellow clover leaves signify a sulfur deficiency; an abundance of dandelions means a shortage of calcium. “Every spot or plant in the pasture,” he says, “is trying to tell us something.” Does this sound like hippie nonsense? According to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture, smaller farms produce far more food per acre, whether you measure in tons, calories, or dollars. They use land, water, and oil much more efficiently; if they have animals, the manure is a gift, not a threat to public health. “In terms of converting inputs into outputs, society would be better off with small-scale farmers, “writes Brian Halweil. “As population continues to grow in many nations, and the amount of farmland and water available to each person continues to shrink, a small farm structure may become central to feeding the planet.”
I quote that much of the book to make a point. Just what is Glasgow surrounded by? We are surrounded by an abundance of fertile and beautiful land which is generally split up into small farms. We have been granted this marvelous natural resource and this new initiative by the Green Market Cooperative folks here in Glasgow may be just what we need to capitalize on this asset. Their initial idea is to create a place where local produce and customers can come together for commerce. But the hope is that this will become the catalyst for a new relationship between local consumers and local producers. Hopefully the place will give way to new decisions by local farmers to change production from corn, tobacco, and other products which are transported great distances and return little of the final product cost to the producer, to the production of fruits, vegetables, dairy, beef, poultry and grains that can be sold locally and directly to the end consumer. That will cut out the WalMarts of the world and preserve most of the money for the producer instead of an endless row of middlemen. Such a system would help us declare independence from the Cargills and Archer Daniels Midlands of the world. Instead we might create a system which would give Glasgow a locally owned and operated food utility which could become just as important to Glasgow's success as the EPB has been for electric power and broadband communications.
So, be thankful for the folks at Green Market Cooperative. Go to their web site at www.greenmarketcoop.com and read more about them. Become a member. Help them become the next great idea that results in a durable future and comfortable lifestyle for our community. While it seems hopeless for us to convince the whole world to think like we do, it is completely possible for us to operate sensibly in our own back yard. These dedicated folks are already out back mowing it and planting flowers. Let’s all pitch in and help!
Read more about this concept at http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/344/index.html
November should be a happy month. There are still a few brightly colored leaves hanging in trees, but most of them are deposited beautifully on the ground. A refreshing coolness has replaced the blast-furnace air of the summer. There is still left over Halloween candy around the house, and plans for visiting with friends and family over Thanksgiving dinner are well underway. So why are we feeling sort of blue here at the EPB? Well, it is time for all UK fans to speak ill of us because of our decision not to pay the ransom that a network call Fox Sports Net South (FSNS) demands to allow us to carry their network and the five UK basketball games they have exclusive rights to. This is not fun for us. Rather it is like going on a vegetarian diet or jogging every day - while it is good for you (and we know this decision is good for the local economy), it is a mortal pain in the posterior.
Of course, this time it was really not we that made this decision. Back a few months ago, we went to a lot of trouble to create a survey of all of our customers. We asked everyone to vote on whether they thought we should add FSNS and/or The Disney Channel if the additions would result in a $1 per month rate increase for everyone for each of the channels added. We ran the survey for two months. We used every known method (short of hiring a sky-writer) to inform everyone in town of our interest in their opinion. Of the 7,500 homes and businesses we serve, about 1,000 votes were ultimately cast. Of those 1,000 votes, about 300 voted to add FSNS. A similar number voted to add The Disney Channel, but more than 400 told us to add no new channels and keep rates as low as possible. To tell the truth, the voting was closer than we anticipated, but since we put it to a vote, we felt compelled to honor the majority’s wish. So, we again told FSNS to go away.
In our hearts, we know this is best for our community’s economy. Both these channels simply charge too much for their products. They deserve to be told no. However, they think that by sprinkling in a few UK basketball games against power house opponents like Liberty and Stony Brook (the fighting Stony Brook Sea Wolves were 9-20 last year!), they can whip you into a frenzy that results in us paying them $100,000 per year for the next seven years so you can watch UK duke it out (sorry about that expression) with five Cupcake U teams. It seems silly and laughable, but, as we all know around the EPB, their plan has worked well for some of our customers. Still, everyone in the community will benefit from the $100,000 per year that will stay in the local economy instead of getting sent off to the greedy folks at FSNS.
So, just to make this newsletter suitable for affixing to the refrigerator, here are the details on the games which will not be widely available to everyone with basic cable.
Wed. Oct. 31 - UK vs. Pikeville College. This is an exhibition game in which UK will take on the fighting Bears from Pikeville College (just a few years ago they called it Pikeville Community College). This will be on FSNS live and it will be on Big Blue Sports Network (BBSN) at 6 p.m. You will be able to watch it on WBKO at 6 p.m.
Sat. Nov. 3 - UK vs. Seattle. This is another exhibition game. Same as above, it will be live on FSNS and BBSN. So, it will be on WBKO-14 (their Fox station which is on our channel 14), and they are saying they will carry it live.
Tue. Nov. 6 - UK vs. Central Arkansas. This game is part of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic. It will be on ESPNU live. Here is the great news. We do carry ESPNU on our digital tier. Get digital before Nov. 6 and you will see this game on EPB cable!
Wed. Nov. 7 - UK vs. Ala. A&M or Gardner Webb. This is another game in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic. Again, we will carry it on ESPNU and you will see it if you have our digital tier.
Wed. Nov. 21 - UK vs. Liberty. Liberty University is in Lynchburg, VA. Their basketball team is called “The Flames.” This game will be exclusive to FSNS. We will not have it on our system. I have no further comment about The Flames.
Sat. Nov. 24 - UK vs. Texas Southern. The Texas Southern Tigers will come to Rupp Arena on Nov. 24. Their team website lists no coaching staff. It also does not list any basketball schedule. This highly competitive contest will also be on FSNS exclusively so it will not appear on EPB cable. If Coach Gillispie had a wife, she would not even attend this game.
Tue. Nov. 27 - UK vs. Stony Brook. Stony Brook? No, this is not a hip new restaurant. Stony Brook is a university and a town in New York. Their team is “The Seawolves.” This game will appear exclusively on FSNS and thus will not be seen on our system. However, Dancing with the Stars will be on and will likely be more exciting.
Sat. Dec. 22 - UK vs. Tennessee Tech. The Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles are in the OVC. Actually, this might be a decent game and I wish we had it, but, alas, it is exclusive to FSNS and we will not have this game on our system.
Mon. Dec. 31 - UK vs. Florida International. It is the last day of 2007 and this will blissfully be the last UK game this season which will be exclusive to FSNS. You will not be able to see UK take on the Florida International Golden Panthers on our system.
After the first of 2008, there are 17 more UK games that will appear on our system. Then there is the SEC tournament followed by March Madness. Almost all of these games will not only appear on our system, but they will appear in High Definition! So, if you want to see the very best UK basketball games and if you want to see them in HD, then the Glasgow EPB is the only place in town to get your UK basketball fix. However, there will be five games (if you can call them games) that we will not carry due to their unholy alliance with FSNS. During those games you will have the pleasure of knowing that you are a part of contributing an additional $100,000 this year to the economy of Glasgow. I hope that eases your pain just a little.
In 2003, many died and thousands of homes were lost to similar fires in the same area. The Fire Chief at the time begged for more firefighters, more fire stations, and more equipment. The city fathers asked the public (they were the ones most in danger) for more money in the form of higher taxes to finance this additional protection. Guess what happened. The citizens voted it down. Those would be the folks now huddled in QualComm Stadium with no place to go.
Admittedly, even thousands more firefighters and a convoy of equipment likely would not have stopped this fire disaster. The truth is, disasters like these are set in motion years earlier when the perfect storm of greedy developers and weak government officials results in allowing dense development in a desert. When someone buys some land and decides to split it up into lots aligned along roads too small to support the development and in an area with insufficient water supply and unstable soils, a really useful local government would step in and put a stop to the whole idea. But, alas, strong local governments are as rare as unspoiled natural beauty is today. There is always someone willing to put everyone in peril just so they can get their own personal fortune made. This is always done to the persistent cadence of that lilting siren song, All Growth is Good - We Need More, More, More.
It is sad to see so many suffering in San Diego as a result of an event that any thoughtful person could see coming years ago. The same is true for the Atlanta area. They are simply out of water. For years local experts have been advising local politicians that the sprawling suburban growth around Atlanta was exceeding the water supply. But, big time developers were more important to the politicians that humble engineers armed with facts. Want an example closer to home? The same thing is about to happen to Bowling Green!
Bowling Green’s sole source of water is the Barren River. The flow to Bowling Green’s portion of the Barren River is totally dependent on how much water is being released from Barren River Dam. So, this year would seem to make it obvious to anyone with half-sense that Bowling Green has reached its maximum capacity. But, no one at the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce believes this! Quite to the contrary, they are still pulling out all of the stops to attract additional business and industry to Bowling Green and Warren County.
And so it goes. All resources are finite. Water, electricity, oil, all of the things that make a community possible have their maximum yields, yet no one is willing to look any of these facts squarely in the face. So, we wind up looking at a neighbor on a cot next to us in the end zone of QualComm Stadium and wondering how such a disaster could happen. I guess that is easier than staring at the truth.
Somewhere around 1974, Glasgow’s electric power supply began to flow through a new substation located discreetly in our southern suburb, Haywood. Since then, like many of us who endured the 70's, that substation has gotten a bit old and gray and in need of a long vacation. So, we are about to embark upon a long and expensive voyage which will end in the construction of a new substation to provide some relief to our old friend in Haywood.
It is not just the age of our Haywood substation that is causing us to worry. We are also concerned with its size, for Glasgow’s use of electric power is spiraling upward at a breathtaking pace. In August we set new all time records for electric power consumption even though SKF, one of our largest customers, has shut down. If they had still been in operation in August that peak demand would have been, well . . . shocking!
Taking the age and capacity of our Haywood substation into account, about a year ago we made up with TVA and asked them to consider building a new transmission line to Glasgow as a symbol of our reconciliation and of our new love for each other. While they denied that request, they did start serious evaluation of our situation and the likely growth of Glasgow’s energy needs over the next several years. After a great deal of hard work and study, they recently agreed that Glasgow does indeed need a second power delivery substation and a new transmission line to feed that substation. So, we thanked them for their work and we have started the process of choosing a location to build Glasgow’s second primary energy delivery point. The new substation we will build will likely cost us about $5 million. The transmission line that TVA will build will likely cost about the same. You can read more about the project from TVA's perspective here.
This is not a move we make lightly. It is not that we want to facilitate the continued unabated growth of energy consumption in Glasgow. If you have been reading my writings here over the last few years, you know that we are desperate to find ways to convince you to use less energy instead of more. We looked for a new energy supplier for three years, hoping to find an energy supplier that would work with us to encourage folks to use energy more efficiently. We failed in that effort. Since giving up on that search and returning to TVA, we have been encouraging them to offer us TOU (time-of-use) rates that would give you a reason to change your usage patterns. They responded with a lukewarm offer that has, so far, been interesting to only a few of you. We consider that a bit of a failure as well.
So, since it seems that trying to convince folks that not all growth is good produces a result which is similar to spitting into the wind, we find ourselves making big plans to build a second primary energy delivery point for Glasgow. This process will become quite active this month. TVA will conduct a public hearing on the need, and planned route, for a new 161,000 volt transmission line through the southeast quadrant of Barren County to feed our new delivery substation. In this hearing all of the property owners who might be impacted by the new transmission line will have a chance to voice their feelings about the new line. So it is likely that you will be hearing about that meeting, and the results thereof, in the local media during October. Obviously we are crossing our fingers that the route will be well accepted and that TVA will have a minimum of controversy to deal with. Since we have decided to do this, we want to do it with all possible haste.
At the same time, we have engaged a local engineering firm to do some preliminary analysis of our chosen site. It is an interesting piece of property. If your age is anywhere north of fifty, and if you were living here in the 60's, you will recall that the City used to collect all of the garbage in town, and take it out to a site affectionately known as “the dump.” At the dump, the garbage was set on fire (I know you younger folks are cringing at this, but we had not even heard of Al Gore at the time). Those of you who were around at the time will recall that the property is out Tompkinsville Road, just before where it goes over the Cumberland Parkway. You will also recall that you could see the column of smoke coming up from the burning trash from just about anywhere in town. Well, the City of Glasgow still owns that piece of property and that is where we are considering building the new substation. We might even call it The Dump Substation. Does that sound appropriate for a $5 million project?
At your home, if you borrow more money to build an addition to your house, you know that your monthly payments will increase. The same is true for the Glasgow EPB. We will be going out on the market to borrow the $5 million to finance this project. Thus, our payments will increase, and that means that we will have to increase the rates you pay for the energy which will pass though the new substation. Luckily, we will pay for the substation over a twenty-year period and the resulting rate increase will be quite small, only about 2%. Over the next several weeks we will be working to design the specifics of how this rate increase will be implemented, but it will likely start appearing on your electric bills shortly after the beginning of 2008.
Once TVA makes a final decision on the route of the new transmission line and if we determine that the old dump site is workable for the construction of the substation, things will quickly
start to happen. We have already ordered one of the massive power transformers which will be at the center of the new substation. Soon, we will be ordering another one of them (this has to be done soon since the delivery time for these units is about one year) and we are also about to have another similar transformer removed from our RR Donnelley Substation (it caught on fire and sort of detonated). So you will be seeing some extremely large and ominous looking pieces of equipment moving through our streets over the next 18 months.
We will also soon begin reconstructing our transmission lines through the middle of town along a path from Gorin Park to L. Rogers Well Blvd. This project is also needed to help us efficiently move the electric power from the new substation site to the rest of Glasgow. This project will commence before the end of November and, it too will likely cause some traffic congestion along the streets where that line is being rebuilt. It will replace a really old transmission line with a much more robust piece of infrastructure, that will benefit everyone.
As you encounter these obstacles to your free movement around town and as you encounter the higher rates for electric power, just remember that we, as a people, have chosen the path of constant and relentless growth in energy consumption (actually consumption of all goods). We, as a people, apparently believe this is the road to happiness and prosperity. Try to enjoy the ride!
You have probably noticed all of the trucks with the bright EPB red, blue, and green logo on them working feverishly around Glasgow. What is coming? The future! And it is coming to Glasgow before almost anywhere else in the United States. We are rebuilding our broadband network with a new architecture called Fiber To The Home (FTTH).
In the United States there are about 120 million homes. Fewer than 1% of those homes are connected to a FTTH network. Does that make you feel special? It should. FTTH means that all of the telephone, internet, cable television, and electric metering signals coming to and from your home will be carried on a light wave traveling down a strand of glass smaller than a human hair. The FTTH architecture requires far less maintenance, experiences fewer outages, and is much more robust than the coaxial cable network which serves your home today. FTTH will allow us to offer many new and exciting services, including internet access at speeds many times faster than the very fast service you already enjoy.
Glasgow is famous for leading the United States in the implementation of advanced broadband networks. We started this race in 1988 and our lead has yet to be challenged. Glasgow’s FTTH project continues that trend. Glasgow is the only city in Kentucky installing a FTTH network. The first 600 home project is taking place right now. These are the homes closest to our Jama M Young Technology Center that houses the FTTH hardware. After this area is completed, we hope to continue this network conversion for the next few years until every home and business in Glasgow is connected to the future.
Yes, Fiber Is Good For You. We hope you return to this site often so we can keep you posted on the cool new products we are inventing right here in Glasgow! This is a very exciting time to live in Glasgow and be a part of this latest iteration of innovation by the EPB. We hope you will join us in this effort to keep bringing Glasgow the future, faster!
Before we get too deep into this newsletter, I want to admit that it was heavily influenced by a book by Bill McKibben, Deep Economy. It is a fantastic book and is largely responsible for any traces of wisdom that might be found herein.
On the surface, TVA’s philosophy about the energy business, since the mid-70's, has operated on one consistent maxim: All good things come from relentless growth. Over the last couple of years, and in particular over the last month, even TVA has begun to realize that More no longer always equals Better. In fact, More is becoming much more closely aligned with Miserable than Better.
How did we arrive at this point? Well, it took a lot of commitment to the belief that More always brings Better by TVA management over several decades. They pursued that belief in many, many ways. They started, but then soon killed, a home weatherization program that was doing a great job of helping homes use less energy (Why? Because it was not producing More sales of energy!), they operate a hyper-aggressive industry recruitment program that has never seen an industry they did not think would look great in any TVA community, but the worst damage has been done by the rate structure they implemented about 15 years ago. Everyone in the energy business knows that power costs more to produce and deliver during certain hours of the day when overall usage peaks. TVA knows that too, but instead of recognizing that reality and creating a rate environment which acknowledges that and charges us proportionately, they use a simple rate that ignores that reality and, instead, sends everyone the message that all energy costs the same thing, no matter when you use it.
So, if you send out the message every month that there is an unlimited supply of electricity and you should use a lot of it and use it whenever you want, what would you guess might happen? That’s right! We all started to use a lot more energy. In fact, even with some large industries in Glasgow shutting down and scaling back, we continue to set new record peak electrical demands every year (we set four new all-time records in August alone). Electric power usage has grown so much that TVA soon is selling more electric power than they can produce. So, what do they do? They go out on the open market and buy more expensive power from their neighbors! That’s right, during the peak hours of the day in Glasgow there is a high likelihood that the electricity keeping your air conditioner running is actually coming from KU or LG&E or any of a number of neighboring systems.
So did this shortfall cause TVA to begin questioning if More always leads to Better? Nope.
In fact, in the midst of this shortage, TVA is actually offering some large customers an incentive to add additional machinery and buy more power (I swear I am not making this up!)! In TVA’s world, it makes perfect sense to pay a customer to add electricity demand, then sell that customer power during peak times at a price far lower than their cost of buying that power from others. That is the power of unlimited belief in More always brings Better.
TVA is not the only villain in this play. There are examples of this faulted dedication to that old belief in many other segments of our economy. Certain elements of our banking industry have felt that more home construction and speculation is always better too. Heard about the fear in our financial markets due to the sub-prime mortgages and the spiraling examples of folks in default on the payments (these defaults jumped 93% in July compared to July of 2006)? This is just another example of business pursuing More at all costs. In the real world, everyone cannot afford the house they wish for. Still, many financial institutions have been lending out money at great risk, counting on the belief that More loans will equal Better profits in all cases. Somehow, no one bothered figuring out where we were going to get the money to pay for all the money we were being offered. That is just as wrong, and just as damaging to our economy, as TVA believing that selling more energy at a cost lower than their cost of buying it, while paying some of us to use more, will result in more prosperity for us all. The actual result is greater cost for most of us in return for savings and increased profit for a few. The folks being hired to build new power plants are not complaining!
You will personally experience this matter on October 1 when TVA’s “fuel cost adjustment” mechanism will increase your electric rates by about 5% to help them pay for the increased cost of coal, and other fuels, and the massive cost of the power they have been buying from the neighbors to supply the demand they encouraged us to create, but that they did not have the capacity to produce. In this case More did lead to Better, just not for us, rather, for the stockholders of LG&E and the other companies that sold the power to TVA. Does that make you feel better?
While this 5% increase is only part of their quarterly adjustment pattern, which means it technically could go away three months later, the impact on Glasgow’s economy is dramatic. In just three months this increase will cost our community more than $320,000! While we struggle with trying to save the community $200,000 per year by not adding cable programming like The Disney Channel and Fox Sports South, TVA’s devotion to More can sweep $320,000 out of the community in three months without even so much as a thank-you note. These are the kinds of defeats that make the battle hard to continue. No matter how hard we fight for our community’s economy, someone bigger and more powerful is always there to squash our efforts.
So, as we wind down the summer which brought us more heat, more energy consumption, more water consumption, more fear of collapse of our financial system, and more realization that our bridges, highways, electric networks, and other crucial infrastructure needs more maintenance, we contemplate whether the road to More can still take us to the land of Better. Do the people of Minneapolis now want more roads which can be named after some fat-cat politician, or would they like to have the money spent for unglamorous maintenance work on existing bridges? Do the people longing for their lost loved ones in collapsed coal mines want us to burn more coal which leads to even more risky mining activity? Do you want to keep paying more for electricity so that TVA can continue to reward some folks for using more energy? Clearly, some of us are learning about the peril of unflagging devotion to More. More does not lead to Better in 2007, and it likely never will again. Since us regular folk are now beginning to understand this, maybe we can start helping our leaders understand this as well. So let me be the first to utter this strange new theory . . . Less might actually lead us to Better.
Have you noticed how hot it is? The electric bill associated with this newsletter is likely the biggest one you will get this year (if it isn’t, the one you get in September probably will be). Did you ever wonder how your consumption compares to your neighbor down the street or your friends in nearby towns? If so, read on and we will tell you where you stand.
In Glasgow the average electric power usage for the month of July was 1,500 kWh (of course if you buy your power from Farmers RECC we do not have statistics for you, but it is quite likely that this figure is about the same for you). Take a look at your electric bill. If your home used more than 1,500 kWh for last month, you are using more energy than the average home in Glasgow uses. You should be pleased to know that Glasgow’s average residential consumption is considerably lower than the average for all the homes served by TVA across portions of seven states. Actually our average consumption at homes in Glasgow is about 18% lower than the average for our TVA neighbors. Some of that is because we are among the northernmost consumers of TVA power so that helps some in the summer. Another reason is that we have a very large number of homes that heat with natural gas and that lowers our consumption some in the winter.
To meet the demands for electric power in Glasgow, TVA burns a lot of coal. They also use nuclear power, hydroelectric power, power purchased from neighboring utilities, and they burn a lot of natural gas during peak hours to meet our growing demand for power. Did you ever think about the environmental impact of our demand for electricity? Perhaps you should sit down. If you are that average residential customer who used 1,500 kWh in July, then TVA burned coal and natural gas (and purchased power August, 2007from neighbors doing the same thing) that resulted in emitting just more than 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere just to serve your home last month. There are about 5,300 homes in Glasgow and Glasgow is just one small city in North America. A ton of CO2 emitted just for your home for one month . . . I hope you find that as staggering as we do.
Of course burning fossil fuel emits a lot of other noxious chemicals as well, but a lot of technology is applied toward the goal of removing those chemicals and they are doing a quite fair job. Nothing is being done to reduce the emission of CO2 and there is an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that CO2 gas emissions are the central cause of our changing climate. When carbon dioxide drifts into the atmosphere it acts like the blanket of insulation you have in your attic, it traps heat that would otherwise radiate out into space, and we are all seeing and feeling the effect of that insulation.
So, are you interested in thinking globally and acting locally? Would you like to know what you can do to start reducing your “CO2 footprint?” There are a number of things that can help and they are all quite simple really. In short, use less energy that is derived from coal, natural gas, and petroleum. Learn how to be comfortable with the thermostat on 79 instead of 70 would likely make the biggest possible impact over the remainder of the summer. There is also a new electric rate structure which TVA is going to allow us to pilot with some of our customers. This rate is called a Time-Of-Use (TOU) rate and it is made possible because of our 20-year-old initiative to associate a broadband network with our electric power network. One by one, we are converting our old electric meters to new meters which can be constantly monitored via the broadband network. As a result, we can monitor how much energy each customer consumes during the different hours of the day (old meters only could tell you how much energy had passed since the last reading, they had no idea what time of day you might have used the energy).
That level of data allows us to offer a TOU rate which will reward customers for reducing their demand during the hours of the day when TVA is pressed for capacity. That is when they are burning the most fossil fuel and contributing the most CO2 to the atmosphere. This rate would also penalize customers with higher rates for electricity during those peak hours. In other words it giveth and it taketh away, so one would not want to go into this pilot program if they are not prepared to really try to change their energy usage pattern.
It would really not be so hard to make those changes. For the remaining summer months, all you would really have to remember is that all electric power consumption between 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on weekdays is bad. So, you would want to install a programmable thermostat so that you could tell it that 80 degrees in the house is okay, Monday through Friday, from 2:00 until 8:00. After 8:00 you could tell the thermostat to cool the house down for comfortable sleeping. You could also have it cool the house down to 68 degrees shortly before the peak time starts at 2:00. This “pre-cooling” could keep your home cool for quite a while during the hot afternoon while you avoid additional cooling during the peak period. At the same time you would want to avoid running the washer, dryer, dishwasher, and all heat generating kitchen appliances during those weekday hours. Of course, that would pretty much render the kitchen useless for cooking dinner, but there are ways to get around that problem as well.
One way to avoid using the oven or stove in the afternoon and early evening is to go outside and use the grill! If you employ this solution, you get the dual advantage of saving electric energy during peak hours and also taking a load off of your air-conditioning system. You also get great grilled-out food! Everyone knows that food off of the grill with those great looking grill marks on it tastes better than anything from the kitchen. Grill marks rock! But what if you don’t have a grill or just don’t yet possess all of the skills you need to cook food in the great outdoors? Be not afraid. There are other solutions. Obviously you can eat out, and there are plenty of great local restaurants that would be very happy to see you. But one of my personal favorite solutions involves the use of the internet to procure . . . pizza! That’s right. You can go online using the EPB’s amazingly fast LAN service and order up your favorite custom-made pizza pie right here in Glasgow. I love this process. Just go to the website of your favorite pizza establishment, click on the size pizza and the ingredients you want, tell them who you are, and you get an email back in a flash telling you how much it will cost and what time you can pick it up! It is so cool, and it does not heat up your kitchen at all.
If you are interested in learning more about the TOU rate pilot, please email me, call me, or otherwise get me a message. We still have some details to work out on exactly how this new rate structure will work, but we are feverishly working on it because there is not that much summer left and we want to see some results this year. So, let me know if you think you might be interested in saving some money by changing your energy use habits. Glasgow has a history of leadership in many adaptations of technology. This is another opportunity for us to shine and to start the process of leaving a better world than the one we found.