A recent report out of a national laboratory confirms what should seem obvious: Americans are using less energy than in previous years. The report compares 2011 to 2010. (www.windpowerengineering.com/ and search on We’re just so darned frugal) It takes no great analysis to accept that when times are tough, as they often have been in this 58-month long (and counting) recession, people try to spend less on what they can spend less on.
It would be fair to attribute the findings to a wide array of vastly more efficient automobiles from most every manufacturer (oddly enough, except BMW and Mercedes). Furthermore, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) have been widely accepted, and soon even more efficient LEDs will replace CFLs in homes and offices.
What does this have to do with wind power? Even utilities are looking for ways to cut costs. As utilities close their least efficient plants (usually coal) and switch to natural gas, they will also tap into less-expensive-than-gas wind generated power when available. The cost of wind generated power has been coming down while equipment reliability steadily improves.
The utilities are taking notice. “We started shopping for more wind energy in March after seeing some very good prices on the market,” says Riley Hill, president and CEO of Xcel Energy’s Southwestern Public Service Co. “We’re making these acquisitions purely on economics and the savings we can deliver to customers.” Hill says he expects to save customers more than $590 million in fuel costs over 20 years. This makes me want to buy electricity from Exel.
What is remarkable is that no government edict decided that personal spending on energy should slow. (OK, government shenanigans did screw up the economy and that is a great prod to frugality.) In the end, it was millions of people making countless decisions regarding what is best for them that reduces energy consumption.
If energy conservation is good, we should ask: How can we encourage further conservation? How about letting us decide from where we will buy electric power? To be fair, First Energy in this part of the country and other utilities have offered customers that option, but as I recall, that was several years ago. More recently, a natural gas company offered to provide the fuel to our home at a price a few percent lower than Columbia Gas, the predominant provider here. So I switched. Understand, there are separate costs for generation and for transmission, and that seems fair.
Why don’t electric utilities at least publish the costs of power from their sources, whether it is coal, nuclear, natural gas, wind, or solar, and let you and me select a preferred source?
When people can choose, there is competition. Where there is competition, prices drop, and that’s good for everyone.
Filed Under: Policy