Forced Austerity - The Bright Side of Failed Energy Policies

Mary Claire Birdsong
"Look on the bright side, you’ll lose weight without even trying!” This glib remark did not get even the hint of a smile from my parents, as they scrutinized the electricity bill I handed them. You know the look. Perhaps you’ve given the look. Serious eyes, reading the fine print. Scanning eyes, running the numbers carefully. Resigned, I’ve-got-to-pay-this-bill eyes.

A whopping $484, the electric bill had nearly doubled from the previous month. My mom suggested moving the thermostat to the 80s, up a couple of degrees. But, a Georgia summer with rationed air conditioning would leave us drenched with sweat. My Dad just waved his hands and sighed, “Well, we’ve got to be more vigilant about the lights.” The lights! That’ll turn things around? Recently returned from 115 degree Kuwait, Dad was not ready to give on air condition -- yet.

Then I dropped the next bomb. I informed them that energy prices were guaranteed to skyrocket. Do not misunderstand. I took no pleasure in the sad news. But, I wanted them to be prepared to sweat or freeze – and digest the news that there would be little savings for their dear children’s college funds. “Consumers' electric bills likely to spike as coal plants close” the headlines shouted in size 28 boldface. Consumers could expect a 40 to 60 percent increase in electricity prices in 2014.

In my house, at current usage, our May 2014 bill would be $725, and would inch closer to $1000 per month by summer’s end. What? Yes. We’re talking “real money.” House-payment sized money. Over the next two to three years, the consumer mindset will need to adjust to the implications of this price increase. After all, bills like this are more typical for the purchase price of a new major appliance than for the monthly cost to run the appliance. This mental - and fiscal - adjustment will not come easily.

Is this increase the power company’s fault? No. In fact, the power company’s pricing system helps avoid immediate increases in energy costs. Untangling the web of how energy prices are set on the power company side requires complex utilities research. The use of auctions and three-year advance purchases for energy based upon projected needs delays the impacts of the new regulations.

So, who is to blame? Several groups can share blame for the failed U.S. energy policies. There are too many to name here. Unwise legislation passed by easily-swayed elected officials is the first target of blame.

Many environmental groups successfully and vociferously argued the merits of limiting carbon (coal) emissions within industry. And many listened. However, these environmental regulations will achieve a negligible positive global environment effect, to the great detriment of millions of Americans.

At least, some say, we have a couple of years to brace ourselves. That’s good, right? On the bleak side, this delay offers a false hope – the false hope of an alternative energy source magically appearing on the power grid. It also deadens the chance of getting a massive knee-jerk rejection of the new policies. But, on the sunny side, the delay also could prompt citizens to action before forced austerity measures become reality. That only works if citizens stay on their toes and think ahead, realizing 2014 will be here before they know it.

First, citizens must accept the facts. Coal-sourced electricity is being forcibly reduced. Environmental regulators set standards for power generators that were impossible to meet with current levels of coal, or impossibly expensive. Industry consultants estimate 60,000 megawatts of power, enough for 60 million homes, will be taken offline by 2017. The effects will be real and far-reaching.

Second, citizens must become informed about real energy alternatives: new, modern nuclear energy plants must be aggressively supported. Coal is huge in our country. We will not eliminate the use of coal. But we do need to replace a large percent of our coal dependence -- over time. We will pay increased energy fees until we act. What other reliable, safe energy source can replace cheap coal? Solar, wind, biofuels, you name it – they are not bringing 60,000 megawatt style rescue. And, they are not cheap or reliable. Only Integrated Contemporary Energy - “new nuclear” can achieve the environmental standards and provide reliable and inexpensive energy. Only new nuclear can recycle its nuclear reaction byproducts and create desperately needed medical radioisotopes. Only the combined approach of the Integral Fast Reactor and the Light Water Reactor will lead to energy independence.


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