Under a new name, the same old ruse

Back in 2013 I wrote about a company called Ethical Electric, noting that the electricity supplier was charging a premium to help out progressive causes. Well, the other day I received a solicitation from a group called Clean Energy Option and after a little digging I found out it was Ethical Electric that was doing business as (d/b/a) Clean Energy Option. Seems to be less than ethical to change their name, but it’s likely a marketing thing.

Yet thanks to that 2013 piece I wrote for Watchdog Wire, I found out that Ethical Electric was charging 10.14 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) at the time, which was a fair-sized premium over the 8.89 cents per kWh Delmarva Power (my utility) was charging back then. That 14% difference meant the average bill would be about $12.60 higher per month for an average home that used 900 kWh monthly. I don’t know about you, but I’m sure I would cry foul if my electric bill was going up $150 a year, since that’s what it translates to.

It just so happened that the Clean Energy solicitation followed my latest Delmarva Power bill by a couple days so my bill was handy. Over the last two-plus years, my Delmarva Power rates haven’t changed a whole lot as the “rate to compare” was 9.01 cents per kWh. In 2 1/2 years I’ve endured an annual rate increase far less than 1% as the total hike was 1.35%. (I also found out in researching this piece that I can get even lower rates by switching my supplier to another of several companies that are in that business. Some are “green” companies like Clean Energy Option, most are not.)

On the other hand, the teaser rate for Ethical Electric’s Clean Energy Option has swelled to 11.6 cents per kWh, which is a rate hike of 14.4% overall and about 6% per year. Most likely this rate will jump again after the three-month special rate ends – after all, what business would promote a higher initial cost? The premium that was once 14% has now doubled to 28%, despite the fact people are bending over backwards to install new solar farms and wind turbines around the region. As Clean Energy Option euphemistically puts the answer to the question “What will happen to my electricity bills?”:

In short, supporting new renewable energy development costs a little more than delivering polluting energy. That’s because the energy you are choosing is better for you and the planet.

(“Better for you” may not be true for a person within sensing range of the low-frequency sound emitted by wind turbines, but I digress.)

There’s obviously something at work here to drive the cost of “regular” electricity down while wind and solar continue to increase. I suspect that something is the low cost of natural gas, which is used more frequently as an energy source to create electricity and is relatively cheap. Ironically, this economic fact is doing almost as much damage to the coal industry as Obama’s EPA regulations.

So don’t be fooled to the tune of $23 a month or nearly $280 a year. Keep the money in your pocket and stick with what is most reliable. Or, if you really want to put that money to work, use it to support elected officials who will stand up to the environmentalist lobby and remove these silly mandates and carveouts for the otherwise unsustainable green energy racket.

A long, cold winter

I’ve referred to this writer recently, but energy maven Marita Noon had a piece at NetRightDaily today talking about the difficulties customers in the Northeast may have this winter with electricity. It got me to thinking about the local situation, as we had a rough winter last year and indications are we’ll have more of the same this year.

While the Eastern Shore of Maryland is situated in a slightly better place for solar electricity than the Northeast, the reality is that very little of our electricity comes from renewable sources. Instead, the two closest power plants in the Delmarva Power region where we live are in Vienna, Maryland and Millsboro, Delaware. Both of those plants were once owned by Delmarva Power, but were sold in 2001 to NRG. According to NRG, the Vienna plant is a 167 MW oil-burning plant while Indian River in Millsboro uses coal to create 410 MW (and has a 16 MW oil-burning unit as well.) Another plant under construction in Dover, owned by Calpine, will add 309 MW of natural gas-fired capacity once it comes online beginning next year. Calpine also owns a number of small, locally-based “just in case” plants in the region as well – two of these oil-burning facilities are in Crisfield, Maryland and Tasley, Virginia.

The other regional power supplier, Choptank Electric Cooperative, produces about 2/5 of its supply from plants in Cecil County, Maryland and Virginia with the remaining electricity being purchased from various regional suppliers.

Infrastructure is also a concern. Several years ago there were plans to create the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway, a transmission line which would extend from Virginia to Delaware, connecting the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant and others in that region with the aforementioned Vienna and Indian River plants. But those plans were scrapped a few years ago due to slowing demand, which is unfortunate because our transmission otherwise comes exclusively from the north through Delaware.

In order to create good jobs, we need reliable sources of energy. Unfortunately, regulations aren’t on the side of plants like Vienna or Indian River so it may be time to think about encouraging investment in another natural gas-based power plant on Delmarva, with the requisite infrastructure to ensure supply. According to Calpine, the Dover site can expand to double its capacity but that would only partially replace the Indian River plant if it is forced offline. Realistically, though, the new power plant would probably be best sited in Delaware as it’s closer to the main body of pipeline infrastructure for natural gas.

But the new power plant is good news for the region, particularly in light of the issues Noon points out in her piece on the Northeast. With thousands of consumers using electricity to heat their homes in one way or another – either directly through baseboard heating or with a furnace and blower or pump – reliability is key. And when solar panels are buried in snow or wind turbines are frozen in place, they’re not much use.

Freezing as its own reward

A number of Delmarva Power customers who enrolled in the Energy Wise Rewards program were rewarded yesterday morning, on the coldest day thus far this winter with wind chill values well below zero, with no heat. That’s because their thermostats were remotely told to ignore the cold temperatures inside the home to save electricity.

For their part, Delmarva Power threw electric grid operator PJM Interconnection under the bus, saying PJM originally asked Delmarva Power to comply. However, a couple hours later Delmarva restored the thermostat control, probably after complaints poured in. And while they had been repeatedly warning customers about the need to conserve electricity due to record winter demand, people were caught unaware that something they could live with during the summer could also be used in the winter.

I’ve written before about this Energy Wise Rewards program, which gives customers a proverbial thirty pieces of silver in return for the installation of these remotely programmable thermostats. Lo and behold, I even asked if this would someday extend to heating and here’s my answer.

Given the reaction and the fact this move made the evening news, I suspect this chilly morning was more routine for most. Obviously, though, there’s a big difference between having a home which is sweltering a little more than normal in the summer and having the risk of freezing pipes and perhaps fires from alternate heat sources being used in the winter. In the television segment, one of those affected put her roast in the oven to add a little heat to the house – seemingly defeating the purpose of having the thermostat turned down (unless it’s a gas oven, of course.)

So when the swallows return to Capistrano and your mailbox receives yet another solicitation for Energy Wise Rewards, do what I do – laugh and toss it in the trash (well, perhaps after I blog about their latest pathetic attempt at control.) I’m not saying conserving energy is a bad thing, but this is the state which mandates we save energy while refusing to exploit a reliable source of electricity for these same utilities because of essentially unfounded environmental concerns. We can frack our way out of this problem.

That’s a cold dose of reality right there.

The offer to grant control

I thought about adding it to an upcoming edition of odds and ends but decided this needed to be promoted to its own column. A few days ago I commented on a story in The Brenner Brief regarding an Ohio woman who was fighting her local utility over the installation of a “smart meter” and I added that our power company sends us a card each spring with an offer to have a new two-way thermostat installed.

Indeed, just like the swallows of Capistrano (or, for something closer to my birthplace, the buzzards of Hinckley, Ohio) it seems like a sure sign of spring is that mailing from Delmarva Power, and I received it earlier this week. Promoting the theme of “5 Things you may not know about Energy Wise Rewards Maryland” it claims the following:

  • 25,000 Marylanders have already joined Energy Wise Rewards, or 1 out of 7 eligible homes in the region.
  • Energy Wise Rewards has reduced customer bills by more than $3 million.
  • Energy Wise Rewards avoids generating 27 million watts of energy per conservation period, supposedly enough electricity to power 10,000 homes for one hour.
  • More than 25,000 Energy Wise Rewards devices are installed in our area, with a goal of 54,000 by year’s end.
  • During a conservation period, the program removes more than 125,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air, like taking 24,000 cars off the road.

So their goal is to be in about 1/3 of the eligible homes by the end of the year, which would maybe save enough electricity to perhaps supply three homes for a year per conservation period. Three whole homes!

And if you take the $160, split between an $80 installation credit and up to $80 in annual reward credits, I can see where the $3 million figure comes from. In actual electricity costs to the utility, assuming there are 30 conservation periods a year, your savings might be a buck or two. (A home uses roughly 1,000 kilowatt hours a month.)

Yet what do you give up? The right to maintain your home at a temperature you choose. The flyer notes:

…on select summer Peak Savings Days, we’ll cycle off and on your (central air conditioning or heat pump) unit for short intervals (conservation periods.)

Your A/C compressor will continue to run for part of the time it did prior to the conservation period. You can expect a 1- to 3-degree rise in temperature, but most people don’t notice a change at all. (Emphasis mine.)

You might like your home at 72 degrees in the summer, but they want it to be 75 degrees.

Of course, when I worked a regular work schedule several years ago, I had a much simpler plan: I turned off my a/c when I went to work and turned it back on when I came home. I would keep the thermostat at 75 and normally when I walked in the door it would be 80 to 84 degrees in the house – an hour later, generally the time I finished my walk, it would be 75 degrees. It was a good system which fit my needs.

But if I bowed to Delmarva Power’s demands, it seems to me my cooling process would take a lot longer as the unit cycles on and off, never mind the wear and tear on the unit. And once you cede control for this purpose, what’s to say they won’t decide someday – in the name of conservation – to cycle it off completely until your home is warm enough for the temperature they say is best? (Generally the recommendation is 78 degrees.)

All this nanny statism is brought to you by a nasty bill which was passed in 2008 called the EmPOWER Maryland Energy Efficiency Act of 2008. And while the bill doesn’t allow a utility to directly regulate one’s thermostat – yet – that may become an option if the state decides on more ambitious goals beyond the 2015 end date of what’s being termed EmPOWER 2.0.

Don’t get me wrong: if energy efficiency is something you want, I encourage you to study the costs and benefits of making improvements. (A good payback period to me is five years or less; for example, if putting in a new energy-efficient climate control system costs $2,000 but saves you $400 annually in heating bills, it’s a good investment. But if it’s only saving you $100 a year, it’s not worth the outlay when it comes to energy efficiency. (Obviously repairs and upkeep can factor into this as well.)

If the state wants to make their facilities more energy efficient using the payback period I outlined above as a guide, well, knock yourselves out, kids. That seems to me a prudent investment, assuming of course the facility houses a legitimate government function.

But I’m very leery about putting a utility (and by extension, the government since this is a state mandate) in charge of my comfort. How we use our energy in our personal domicile should be up to us and the economic realities we face – obviously if we can’t afford a $1,500 fuel oil bill every winter, we have to turn down our thermostats or find cheaper alternative sources. But that’s a decision we as home occupants make, not someone at the utility company or state regulator.

Making customers pay – twice – for a mandate

According to an AP story which came across the WBOC wires, Delmarva Power is looking to extract $39 million from its Delaware-based customers to cover the cost of installing so-called smart meters around the state. In their state Public Service Commission filing the utility claims that they spent $72 million on replacement, with much of it offset by savings but $26 million lost in depreciation value.

PHI, the holding company that owns and operates Delmarva Power, notes in their 2010 Annual Environmental Sustainability Report that “development of (advanced metering infrastructure) is nearing completion in Delaware…In total, PHI is installing about 1.2 million smart meters across its jurisdictions.” In that same report, they boast about receiving a $168 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to “support the rollout of our smart grid initiatives.” In other words, they used our tax dollars to get this ball rolling and now expect ratepayers to make up the difference. Now that’s chutzpah.

Continue reading “Making customers pay – twice – for a mandate”

Odds and ends number 35

Gee, and I just did one of these last week. But I keep picking up more interesting items, so here we go.

On Saturday it’s quite likely your bank started charging you a monthly fee for using a debit card, whether once or multiple times a day. The most infamous example is the $5 monthly fee Bank of America enacted, but many other banks got into the act as well.

But as John Berlau of the Competitive Enterprise Institute wrote in the American Spectator, we have someone else to blame as well:

The irony of these developments is that if the media and politicians wanted to blame a greedy big business for these new consumer costs, there is one industry that would accurately fit the bill. This would be the giant big-box retailers that lobbied for these price controls to fatten their bottom line.

In fact, one report I found said Home Depot stood to save $35 million a year by cutting the interchange fees in roughly half, as the new federal regulations do. Of course, that is split out among everyone who shops at Home Depot whether they use a debit card or not. But don’t hold your breath waiting for prices to miraculously come down since each store has thousands of items that may cost a few pennies less for the retailers to sell. Bank customers will be stuck with the fees, though.

Continue reading “Odds and ends number 35”