Saturday, February 5, 2011

An Electric Investment

The website has posted a journal piece by A. Siegel, “Deception on Texas Blackout Threatens Prosperity and Security.”  The piece calls for investment in our nation’s electrical grid and states: “Our aged and inadequately maintained electricity system is fragile and vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters.”
Siegel goes on the blame power outages in Maryland and Texas on the outdated infrastructure rather than the huge storms rolling through the area.  He says that the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, and others blaming the government are trying to point fingers rather than fix the problem.  He ends the piece by calling for increased investment in American infrastructure, and Smart Grid technology.
Siegel is correct in his opinion that our grid is outdated and requires investment to improve reliability and capacity.  Where we differ is on the definition of the word “investment.”  I see investment in the grid coming from utility coalitions, and local utilities themselves, while Siegel prefers government make the decision and provide the funds for the investment.  I thought we did all that with the $1 trillion stimulus bill for shovel-ready jobs?
The statements by Rush, and Drudge are both correct.  If it wasn’t for the left trying to eliminate coal as an industry and source of electricity in this country, we would have an overabundance of cheap reliable coal-fired power plants.  Instead we are forced to spend billions on insane environmental studies, permitting, taxes, and red tape.  Private businesses are forced into investing in “green” technology even if it does not make financial sense, just to keep Washington off its back.
What the left fails to see is that companies do not operate just to provide jobs, they operate to make a profit.  If electric utilities were able to build reliable nuclear, coal, and natural gas power plants – rather than spend billions of dollars fighting environmentalist in court – there would be a lot more funds left over for investment in infrastructure.  Unlike in the government, private businesses are left with a finite amount of money to spend on upgrades and improvements.  Anything that is not tied-up in government red tape is much more likely to be put to good use that may benefit the consumer.
If you want to get a good idea of just what a disaster a heavily regulated government controlled utility can be search “PEPCO blackout” in google.  PEPCO is an electric provider in the southern Maryland/Washington DC area that is drowning in regulations to provide energy assistance to the poor, and all sorts of other programs.  They have become infamous for their recent problems with blackouts and poor service.  PEPCO simply does not have the money to improve service because so much of it is tied up in government mandated programs.  Many of the areas it serves contain low income customers who don’t pay their bills – yet PEPCO is unable to cutoff electricity to non-paying customers because the local politicians will not allow it.  PEPCO is also unable to raise rates without the permission of the utility commission, which will not grant approval because of the “impact on the poor.”  Basically, due to government, consumers in the area will continue to suffer through poor service because there is simply no way to pay for upgrades or improvements and no other service provider to choose from.
I have nothing against “green” technology and making military installations self-sufficient as Siegel is calling for, as long as the technology is as cheap and as reliable as current methods of generation and transmission.  Private electric and utility companies should be the decision-makers here not the government.  The idea of Smart Grid technology and Smart Meters that allow the government or utilities to control my electrical usage is a nonstarter for me.  These technologies make sense in some ways as long as they empower consumers to make choices not government.  I will never willingly give the government the ability to remotely change the setting on my thermostat or modify power usage in my home as it sees fit, and as Obama has proposed.
With the government, and Government Motors pushing electric cars on consumers,  anyone want to guess what will happen to our electric grid when millions of mandated electric cars are plugged in?  It’s time for government to get out of the way and let private business build proven nuclear, coal, and gas-fired power plants.  Our country, our prosperity, and our national security depend on it.

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