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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Of EPA, Coal, Greenhouse Gases, and Glasgow

Monday’s announcement that EPA will soon implement new restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants seems to have already caused everyone to chose a side and decide who they should hate relative to this new initiative. Just in case there are any local folks who have not yet chosen a side, I offer some non-political thoughts on what EPA is trying to do, and how it might impact us all, nationally and locally.

Since Monday it seems that nearly all of Kentucky’s congressional delegation (and those who are presently trying to enter that delegation) is 100% committed to opposing the new regulations. Since these sides and positions were chosen so quickly, one must infer that this is done to gain the favor of an industry that often gives big dollars to political campaigns – the coal industry. Make no mistake, the positions already taken by our legislators can have nothing to do with making the lot of us Kentuckians better, because they have not had the time necessary to totally understand the impact of the new regulations. That has to make us all feel that they take this position as the spokespersons for the coal industry, not as representatives of our welfare. I am about to suggest that there is a middle ground.

Beyond the elected folk, there is already great opposition to the new regulations because we have been told that electric power rates will soar. Even if that were true, should we not also take into account the nagging little issue that burning coal causes a warehouse full of health and climate issues, most of which, if properly monetized in the same recognizable form as our monthly power bill, would dwarf the economic impact of higher electric bills? Don’t take my word for it. I am not a climate expert. I’m not even a chemist, but I know there are such folks in the world, experts who have earned the right to warn us about climate change, and one must be consciously drowning them out not to hear, and recognize, that we probably are slowly destroying everything we love with each kWh produced by burning fossil fuel.

Just how much might our monthly electric bills change under this new regulatory environment? Well, that is a subject I am qualified to speak on. Like most things, the answer depends on how you ask the question. For example, if the electric power industry continues to do tomorrow, pretty much what it did yesterday (that is the favorite method of operating for my utility fraternity), the impact on your electric bills, locally and nationally, would be staggering. But in the real world, we ought to expect that new economics would bring about new solutions, new ideas, and an evolution of thinking about how electric power should be supplied to our communities. Auto makers responded to evolving fuel costs and pollution regulations by producing cleaner and more efficient cars and trucks. Surely the electric power industry can do as well as they have done. In 2014 and beyond, we should be able to design electric power solutions that are yearning to become viable, needing only a little change to the status quo to flourish.

If you happen to be a customer of Glasgow EPB, you already know how we have been changing our relationship with you over the last couple of years. We are attempting to predict when our peak demand might occur and we are telling you about that, and researching technologies that will allow us to work together to help mitigate those peaks, with very little impact on the way we live our lives. Coming soon will be a totally new retail rate structure that will amplify those peak predictions and assign costs to customers based upon the time of day when they use energy. These are solutions that are designed to work with more stringent regulations on TVA and other utilities, and help them accomplish the goals of these new regulations. These experiments we have been doing are proving that we can reduce our dependence on coal fired, and other less efficient forms of generation, by learning how to moderate the way we deliver, and charge you for electric power, effectively reshaping the demand which generation resources must deliver. So, there are ways to move ahead and utilize cleaner electric power generation resources. There are solutions that will allow us to enjoy life and electric power, while we also turn back the clock on the impact we are having on our air, water, and climate.

Before you chose a side and start lambasting the other side for its lack of sophistication, remember there are possibilities that are available today. We are not bound by the way we operated utilities for the last century. We have a chance to use this chaotic time to our advantage. We are ready, at least as ready as any community in our country, to move toward a lasting peace, instead of joining in a war that seems already to be declared.