I recently attended an event where a Utility was highlighting some of their new plant improvement efforts. The new methods of power production at this one plant will be much more efficient than their current methods, and it will save much unwanted emissions from going into the atmosphere. This is wonderful news and I applaud it.
But there was still something that annoyed me at the presentation. What the utility was doing was great, but when the utility presenter spoke about environmental controls, he almost did it in a mocking way. And this is not just something I just noticed, it happens at almost all meetings I'm at where someone from a utility is present.
When the presenter mentioned how many billions the utility has to pay to install environmental controls, it was almost always followed by a sad shake of the head and the line, "And that unfortunately the money spent on environmental controls is reflected in higher costs to the rate-payer, our customers." Which is absolutely true. But I for one don't mind paying a little bit more for energy if it means I won't have mercury in my soil, NOx and SO2 in my air, the Appalachian mountains plowed down to get at their heart's of coal, or coal sludge spills to worry about!
The problem here is the message the utility promotes to its customers: Cheap energy trumps all!
But it's not just the utility's fault. They are not bad guys who hate cute little birds and puppy dogs. The utilities continue with their message of the all-important cheap energy because that is the message that many of the rate-payers demand from the utility. It is a cycle that has been perpetuated for 100 years.
And this is why I'm sure the presenter wasn't too happy with the question I asked that went something like this:
Has there been a corporate wide effort to educate employees and the public on externalities associated with power production? The reason power is so cheap in the first place is often these externalities - air pollution and ground contamination, mountain-top removal, coal sludge containment - aren't taken into place. Society eventually has to pay for these externalities in medical bills, federal clean up programs, and loss of national treasures (Appalachian Mountains).
Unfortunately I wasn't quite so eloquent, but my message was the same. If the utility would focus more on educating its customers as to why utility rates have to increase, I'm sure many of the customers would gladly pay a little more in energy if they knew that their children would have a higher quality of living.
I discussed this same topic back in June for a blog I wrote for Triple Pundit titled Renewable Energy and the Good Ol Boy: Perception vs. Reality. From that piece:
Another perception of Good ol’ boys is that the only reason for renewable energy is to slow global warming, a concept many Southerners haven’t fully embraced. Southerners who are heavily resistant to renewable energy would rather make fun of Al Gore and his hippie liberal cohorts than admit that:
- Many of their cities are choked by Air Pollution (of which Coal power is a significant contributor)
- The Appalachian mountains are being blown up to get at their veins of Coal
- Coal sludge actually exists
Until the perception of renewable energy changes from mocking the efforts of mitigating CO2 emissions to one of realizing that the fossil fueled status-quo is detrimental to the to bucolic vision of Dixie that so many Southerners hold dear, renewable energy has an uphill struggle.
And I went on to say...
In order for those perceptions to begin to shift, the Southeast needs to have an honest discussion about external costs of existing methods of generating electricity (pollution from fossil fuel generation and risks associated with storing nuclear waste) and projects currently underway (like FPL’s solar site) should be highlighted and applauded.
Southerners who favor a renewable energy future need to help Good ol’ boys see that renewable energy doesn’t mean higher energy costs and saving polar bears. It means less “red-alert” smog days so kids with asthma can actually play outside, no more coal sludge spills polluting the land and water, an Appalachian mountain range that is actually intact, and the potential for a cleaner, more prosperous future.
It's time for utilities and the public to have an honest discussion about the value of clean energy, and why it is truly worth more than cheap energy.