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So if we're saving all this power, is it doing any good?
June 3, 2001 8:54 PM   Subscribe

So if we're saving all this power, is it doing any good? California is rapidly serving as an object lesson to any state thinking about deregulation...mainly, an object lesson in how not to do it. Without dragging anyone through another painful discussion as to who is at fault and what has to be done, I wonder...does anyone have any idea if California's conservation efforts are doing any objective good? Somehow, I doubt it.
posted by Ezrael (17 comments total)

 
Fortunately Mefi is no longer powered by the Californian grid.
posted by lagado at 9:02 PM on June 3, 2001


I think it's too early to tell.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:09 PM on June 3, 2001


I for one have done my best. I have replaced just about every light blub with compact florescent ones, I try not to run the AC when I'm not home. Etc. Etc. I have not really seen much in the way of savings. I mean, the bill seems to be the same in the amount of power I'm using.

I personally think the governor has dropped the ball. Big time. I also think that every public offical should have a well versed history playing SimCity. They would know all about power and how to run a city. But thats another story....

I think instead of paying for all this "out of state" power, we should have accepted the rolling blackouts. Perhaps then more people would conserve. I think just now people are seeing it, because their bills are double or more now. I went to Costco today, and just about everyone I saw bought atleast one compact florescent blub.

If I were governor would have ordered that one nuclear power plant in Sacramento (i forget the name of it) fired up until "safe" power plants are built. As frustrating as it is, I think the Bush administration is right. We need more supply. And nuclear is a good option. I read an article in US News and World Report about a new nuclear plant being built in South Africa. Now that should be something California should consider building.

Until then, I think conservation is something that is happening, but, it seems to be kind of slow to take effect. And it is bankrupting the state. We had a surplus of 8 billion dollars. We even DECREASED the state sales tax. And now......we have credit problems......and we're being taken to the cleaners by "free market" power companies. And the federal government is not going to get involved in the near future. We're screwed. We need more power, and until then, we need to cut back BIG time.........
posted by ericdano at 9:12 PM on June 3, 2001


I think the conservation efforts would be exemplary if the power companies weren't systematically taking power plants offline creating an artificial "shortage".
posted by owillis at 9:32 PM on June 3, 2001


I'm not so sure that California will ever serve as a model for validating whether deregulation works. From what I understand, currently the only truly deregulated energy exists in Pennsylvania... California was re-structured, but not fully deregulated. Pennsylvania has done an amazing job when you think about electricity being a distribution industry where anything created above the demand level is completely wasted.
posted by machaus at 9:58 PM on June 3, 2001


The devil in conservation is always the tragedy of the commons. For every 1000 well-meaning consumers buying those compact fluorescents, there's somebody out there planning a "necessary" server farm. The well-meaning consumers, aggregate, might save 50000 KWh/year. The server farm, even if efficient, will burn that up in, what, a week? Two? It would take a really enormous increase in the cost of power, which businesses can amortize and deduct against profits anyway, to make a dent in that kind of waste.

I will chime in as a considered skeptic of the energy industry who nonetheless believes that nuclear power is a manageable risk. That may mean building the plants in out of the way places, but heck, Los Angeles already gets half its water from past Fresno. Try some of that superconducting, superefficient transmission line to get it where it needs to be. We're smart; we can do this. And deal with the disposal issue by decree, overriding the NIMBYism of places with more goats than people.

But in the long run we do have to accept that electricity can't always be "too cheap to meter". Same with water. Growth has costs, and resource limitations are one of those costs. And the market is a terrific incentivizer.

That's something we need, there, though: a conservation market (like pollution markets). The consumers who save would get not only lowered utility bills but a kickback. The businesses who waste would fund the market.
posted by dhartung at 10:20 PM on June 3, 2001


reward someone for doing the right thing? Oh i saved 32$ last year. Oh mr, usa heres 30$ for saving $32. kickback?...see ,the system has your intellect spitting back out what should be re-thought in the first place. What,are we going to go to a G.M. plant , oh you used way to much power today. How do you set guidelines. What about my hydroponic system. You cannot build Nuke plants 'out of the way' like some dumb uncles outhouse. Growth has costs and Mr and ms, usa will flip the bill. they already are. we pay 50% more for heating gas. 50%...and nobody is going to anything
posted by clavdivs at 7:08 AM on June 4, 2001


The state should mandate progressive pricing. Make basic electricity (water, gas, gasoline) fairly cheap but charge a lot for extravagant use. People who want to be extravagant and not pay for it would make sensible home and vehicle improvements and not be such wasteful idiots. Everyone would benefit.
posted by pracowity at 8:20 AM on June 4, 2001


And what's "extravagant?" If you have a large family, which will use more electricity just as a matter of fact, your usage will certainly look "extravagant" versus the use of a DINKS couple, even if the DINKS aren't conserving one bit and the large family is limiting their usage severely. What then, we bill people based upon their living arrangements? Does PG&E need to know how many kids you have, or roommates? Is it their business? How will they know who's lying in order to avoid paying more for their non-curtailed use? Who would have enforcement capabilities - and why/how would it be their business or right to come into your home to make these determinations? It's a nice idea in the abstract, but the actual implementation of it would be a nightmare.
posted by Dreama at 10:06 AM on June 4, 2001


It's not even a nice idea in the abstract. Winston Smith, anyone? As a person who works hard and loves freedom, I would fight this idea tooth and nail.
posted by UncleFes at 11:34 AM on June 4, 2001


On the other hand, my power bills are fine. My state doesn't make a mockery of "deregulation," nor does it think cutting back generation while increasing usage = low prices. It must be our governor took Econ 101 when he was back at school.

Anyways, If I have a problem with my power bill, I cut back on my usage/look for areas to conserve on my own (as happened last winter with the natural gas price jump). That's how markets work. If power gets too expensive, alternatives will be found and implemented naturally. I don't automatically become a raving communist every time my bill reaches $150.
posted by UncleFes at 12:05 PM on June 4, 2001


If you have a large family, which will use more electricity just as a matter of fact, your usage will certainly look "extravagant" versus the use of a DINKS couple, even if the DINKS aren't conserving one bit and the large family is limiting their usage severely. ... Does PG&E need to know how many kids you have, or roommates? Is it their business?

Energy allottment could be easily estimated from the square footage of the dwelling, without any invasion of privacy. If you have a large family, you've got a bigger house to put them in. Since there are energy economies inherent in people sharing living space (example: one big hot water heater may well use less energy than three smaller ones), you could even give people with bigger houses a little "extra" energy allocation. Only downside to that is that it might allow rich people who just buy big houses to pay a little less for their electricity, and we can't have that, can we? After all, since they can pay more, they should
A better conservation-encouraging idea is for the utility to calculate your average bill over, say, 2000. During 2001 raise electric rates say 10%. At the end of 2001, if you have used less than say 95% of your 2000 usage, you get a rebate to make your cost per kilowatt retroactively lower. That way you can still pay 2000 rates if you actively conserve. Repeat each year to encourage continued conservation efforts. If you have a particularly cold winter or hot summer one year, you may not meet your goal, but the next year it'll be that much easier to meet because the baseline will be so much higher. (And of course the utility will have the extra cash on hand to pay those rebates, since it'll earn interest on the extra profits from the previous year.)
posted by kindall at 12:23 PM on June 4, 2001


Thwock goes the closed tag, as I was wandering idly by . . .
posted by Skot at 12:50 PM on June 4, 2001


I'd just like to point out that big companies with big factories typically pay much less for electricity than you or I would. Because, truth be told, if GM had to pay regular rates, they'd just build a power plant along with the factory.

Unfortunately, you or I don't have that option.
posted by Jart at 8:04 PM on June 4, 2001


> Does PG&E need to know how many kids you have,
> or roommates?

If they wanted to know, they would know now. You have a power consumption pattern that betrays how many people are doing what. If they wanted to bother, they would know when you're home, when you're not, when you're awake, when you're asleep. With their friends at the cable station, they could know what you're watching and when you watch it, and therefore have a good idea of exactly who lives in your home. If they wanted to talk to the people who collect your mounds and mounds of household garbage, they could write a fairly accurate biography of the entire family, medical history, birth control, and genetic samples included.

But for the paranoid sort who run from census takers, they could offer to charge the top rate all the time in exchange for not revealing that deep, dark secret about how many people live in their home. That's deregulation: you could sell the electric company a little bit of information in exchange for lower bills, or you could choose not to sell that information.
posted by pracowity at 10:39 PM on June 4, 2001


> if GM had to pay regular rates, they'd just build a
> power plant along with the factory.

Fine. Let them build. But hold them to decent regulations that encourage conservation and limit pollution. If they overbuild, let them sell to the grid.
posted by pracowity at 10:40 PM on June 4, 2001


What I meant to say was (some of this got cut off because of a botched tag -- how much depends on the browser, it appears):

If you have a large family, which will use more electricity just as a matter of fact, your usage will certainly look "extravagant" versus the use of a DINKS couple, even if the DINKS aren't conserving one bit and the large family is limiting their usage severely. ... Does PG&E need to know how many kids you have, or roommates? Is it their business?

Energy allottment could be easily estimated from the square footage of the dwelling, without any invasion of privacy. If you have a large family, you've got a bigger house to put them in. Since there are energy economies inherent in people sharing living space (example: one big hot water heater may well use less energy than three smaller ones), you could even give people with bigger houses a little "extra" energy allocation. Only downside to that is that it might allow rich people who just buy big houses to pay a little less for their electricity, and we can't have that, can we? After all, since they can pay more, they should pay more, right? (No, it's wrong, but it'll never fly anyway because of this line of reasoning, especially in California.)

A better conservation-encouraging idea is for the utility to calculate your average bill over, say, 2000. During 2001 raise electric rates say 10%. At the end of 2001, if you have used less than say 95% of your 2000 usage, you get a rebate to make your cost per kilowatt retroactively lower. That way you can still pay 2000 rates if you actively conserve. Repeat each year to encourage continued conservation efforts. If you have a particularly cold winter or hot summer one year, you may not meet your goal, but the next year it'll be that much easier to meet because the baseline will be so much higher. (And of course the utility will have the extra cash on hand to pay those rebates, since it'll earn interest on the extra profits from the previous year.)
posted by kindall at 10:59 PM on June 4, 2001


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