Fri Jan 20th, 2012 at 01:48:48 PM EST
It now can be logically argued that we now have less freedom (= less rights) than even a decade ago - for example, via indefinite detention, "legal" assassination of Americans, (lack of) on-line privacy, the "death" of "habeus corpus" and warrantless wiretapping. And yet one local (to NY State) hard won right is the freedom to vote with the money you spend on your electricity bill as to how you want that electricity made. Do you want it made via polluting or non-polluting means? You get your choice - by a way that maximizes the probability of a Fukushima/Chernobyl event (and we've had some really close calls in NY State), or way with a zero probability of such a horror? Do you want that electricity made in a way that has minimal CO2 pollution, or maximal CO2 pollution. After all CO2 pollution (CO2 made by burning fossil fuels) is the prime driver for Global Climate Change, which will NOT be good for us, by a long shot. About 40% of the CO2 pollution made in our country comes from burning coal and natural gas to make electricity. How about electricity in a way that maximizes NY State job creation, instead of in a way that exports the maximum quantity of money (out of state corporate profits, fossil fuel expenditures/corporate rentier profits)?
Wow, all that via that once a month ritual of paying a (usually) corporate monopoly for the monthly allotment of electricity, and which most people don't associate with freedom at all (it's a money expenditure bill, after all, and who wants to pay that!). So, let's use my electricity bill as an example of a residential bill. There are about 7 million residential customers in NY State, as well as about 1 million "commercial" and 80,000 "industrial" customers, and in 2009 (the last with the readily available data) about $22.4 billion was spent on electricity purchases (15.52 c/kw-hr average delivered price) - see http://126.96.36.199/cneaf/ele..
. Of that, about one third of that (maybe $8 billion) was actually paid to the people who generated the electricity. And it is in that $8 billion/yr where you as a customer can choose to direct your purchases. Only a very tiny percentage of NY'ers actually do that, unfortunately.
So here is a breakdown of my monthly bill (Dec 2011), total household usage of 247 kw-hr, averaging 332 watts, all for $56.07:
Connection ................................. $16.21
Delivery ...................................... $12.87 5.268 c/kw-hr
Delivery Adjustment .................. $ 4.30 1.743 c/kw-hr
Incr State Adjustment ............... $ 0.76 0.307 c/kw-hr
SBC/RPS .................................... $ 1.35 0.5452 c/kw-hr
RDM ........................................ - $ 0.75 - 0.305 c/kw-hr
Transmission Adj Rev ............... $ 0.36 0.144 c/kw-hr
Tariff Surcharge ......................... $ 1.85 5.26316 %
Sales Tax .................................... $ 1.76 4.75 %
Electricity Supply ....................... $ 9.46 3.831 c/kw-hr
Merchant Function .................... $ 0.43 0.174068 c/kw-hr
Renewable Service ..................... $ 6.18 2.5 c/kw-hr
Tariff Surcharge ......................... $ 0.50 3.09278 %
Sales Tax ..................................... $ 0.79 4.75 %
Subtotal ............................. $17.36
One gripe commonly expressed about electricity bills is the "nickel and diming" those $0 to $2 per item things, that add up to 12.6% of this bill. Total taxes are about one third of the "nickel and diming" that happens when those fractions of a penny per kw-hr are added up and multiplied by 247 kw-hr. The actual generated electricity could be as low as 19% of the total bill when the "Renewable Service" (Green Tags) is excluded, which would have saved all of $6.18. It is those dollars which go to the wind turbine owners - in this case, ENI, and Italian company that owns the initial Wethersfield NY wind farm (10 x 660 kw units that were installed in 2000), in addition to the "average spot market price" for the month of December 2011, which was 3.206 c/kw-hr. Thus, ENI was raking in 5.706/kw-hr, or $14.09 last month from me, and the rest either went to NY State ($2.55) or National Grid ($39.43), our British owned local distribution monopoly whose abbreviations are, fittingly, NG (beats our natural gas monopoly, National Fuel Gas, abbreviated ever so appropriately as NFG).
In other words, 4.75% goes to NY State, 25.1% goes to the wind turbine owner who, on average, supplies my electricity, and 70.3% goes to the foreign owned monopoly who owns the wires and does the billing. Even if the cost of electricity generation was that of NYPA's Niagara Power Project (0.2 c/kw-hr) - where I would pay 50 c/month for 247 kw-hr/month - that still leaves over 75% of the (existing) bill for the "other" category unaltered.
Like most WNY residents, most of the bill for December 2011 was in the "Delivery Services" category, and not much was in the "generation" part - and that's where the pollution does or does not come from. Or that nasty radioisotope poisoning potential - Chernobyl did in or 970,000 people via cancer and related nasties, as well as significantly messing with the genetic code and immunity systems or 60 million Ukranians and Belyrusians, where less than 1 in 10 children born has a "normal" health profile. Yum.....
There are very few NY'ers who take advantage of the "electricity choice", and instead use the "default", which, for National Grid/ex-Niagara Mohawk, is heavily nuke oriented (nukes were the prime cause of NiMo's "corporate dead man walking" situation that began in 1988 and ended up in their de-facto bankruptcy/pennies on the dollar sale to National Grid in the early 2000's). Less than 1% of residential customers, and close to that for commercial (includes NY State governmental units) and industrial entities, use the "vote with your dollars" right. In theory, Gov. Pataki's Exec order 111 (a massive unfunded mandate/wish fullfillment/empty promise), requires at least 10% of all electricity sales to NY government entities are non-pollution based (in effect, wind or landfill gas), and SUNYAB is about the only institution that even bothered to try to meet the EO 111 decree to a significant extent.
The Wrap Up
So what can be concluded from this minute/pathetic participation rate, and also the completely never budgeted (if you want it, try paying for it) E.O. 111? Renewable electricity in NY can be home-grown (recycles money instead of exporting our wealth), once installed is non-polluting, and poses zero threats from fall-out and catastrophic climate change. And for a pretty nominal cost, you can make the world a better place and provide some American's with good jobs, and businesses with a way to exist for the betterment of most of us, as opposed to extracting all available wealth and leaving us as an emptied shell in "the dustbin of human history".
Now, some will say they don't know about the "Green Tags" option (and there are better ways to do this, such as Feed-in Laws, but since we don't have them in NY, "Green Tags" are it for now). Some will just not care about trashing the climate control system with CO2 pollution - as long as today's electricity price is dirt cheap, NOTHING else matters. Some could care less about exporting dollars to import fuels and send off exorbitant profits to the mothership for NY nuke owners, and just discount the "NY Fukushima Scenario" by invoking the concept of perpetual luck.
But most people get uncomfortable when asked the question of "If your part of salvaging a a viable climate for the next few generations might cost $5 to $20/month, would you do it?" - the idea of trashing the prospects of their children and grandchildren for their own short term gain and/or comfort is unsettling. It's just best to push that question into a dark corner, leave it there undisturbed, and forget about it. After all, given what comes across as news these days, (here is an rare exception - http://UpwithChrisHayes.msnbc.... ) it's not at all difficult to ignore the climate problem/economic problems coming from pollution based electricity. For most people, such questions will never be asked. "Move along now, nothing to see here..."
Now some will pose the "great diversions" - such as, why not tax CO2 pollution for its real cost ($85/ton of CO2 pollution emitted), and why not let nukes pay their full share of catastrophic insurance (if nuke owners had to do this, they would just shut them down ASAP, as there is no commercially viable way to do this - see http://www.wind-works.org/Larg... Either of these actions would raise generated electricity prices from coal by between 8 to 10 c/kw-hr and from gas by 5 c/kw-hr, rendering all more expensive than onshore wind turbines, and shocking the economy something fierce if done all at once. Actually, that's why Feed-In Laws are so attractive - all pollution sources can be replaced via the "renewables get grid access preferentially", and there is no need for cranking up pollution based electricity prices (now the bulk of our supply). In these, the more expensive (until the capital investment is paid off) renewable electricity can get blended into the grid mix in a way that minimizes the speculative rip-offs that are possible in "marginal pricing systems". But, if you can't figure out how to "vote with your money" via Green Tags" - see http://www.buffalowind.org/nod... - even comprehending Feed-In laws is probably going to be a stretch. And as for getting the Federal law change (alter Section 210 of the 1978 PURPA law with a measly 132 words) needed to allow a FIT system in states - well, not good. And even if that does happen (it's zero cost, after all, and not "State's Wrongs" but "State's Rights"), then try getting the NY Governor, NY Senate and NY Assembly to do the right thing. Well those all have to be done, but you can immediately vote with your dollars today, or at least by the end of the month. Besides, a big market share moves politicians, as this is actual money talking - it won't work on all of them, but maybe enough of them. Hey, maybe even the guilt trip about them trashing the world's climate so bad that their descendant's will forever curse them something fierce might change a couple of legislative minds...
In the immortal words of the Floyd dudes:
"Breathe, breathe in the air
Don't be afraid to care ...."
(Dark Side of the Moon - "Speak to Me/Breathe" - try out this one: