A Reality Check

Last week I brought in the mail, gave it to Lynnda and headed to my office. I few minutes later I heard, “Fourteen hundred dollars!” I ran in to see what was going on. Lynnda said, “Our electric bill is over fourteen hundred dollars!” We are on an annual budget. October is settle-up month. I expected a higher bill, but not that high. Every month I pay more than our budgeted amount. Last winter December, January and February were cold months when our heat pump’s emergency heat was working hard skyrocketing electric usage. Our average size home is all-electric. We have lived there for 38 years. The subdivision was built in the 1980s when natural gas was unavailable because the USA was “running out of natural gas”.

Now we have an abundant supply of natural gas in our region that will last hundreds of years based on today’s technology. The only places in the world having more natural gas than the Shale Crescent USA region of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania are; 1) the rest of the USA outside our region and 2) Russia. In spite of this abundance, my neighbors and I have been unsuccessful for years trying to get natural gas lines run into our subdivision. Natural gas is cheaper than electricity. We like the warm natural gas heat. Our heat pump blows cool air unless we use high electricity demand emergency resistance heat.

We hear and read about the benefits of electrification and how economies of scale with renewables will make them cheaper than natural gas. In Germany, 46% of electricity comes from renewables. Sounds like an economy of scale. Germany now has the highest electric rates in the world. The USA is going that direction if public policy and regulations don’t change.

Heating with natural gas, coal or wood is a one-time combustion. For electricity, coal, natural gas or wood pellets are burned creating steam to turn a turbine. Wind and sun are free. There is an equipment cost (solar panels or windmills) and infrastructure cost for electricity from wind and solar. No matter the source, electricity is transmitted to our homes through power lines. Some electricity is lost from transmission and doesn’t make it to the end user. At our homes electricity powers our heat pump which isn’t 100% efficient or makes heat through resistance requiring more electricity. Electricity is a good energy source but isn’t efficient or economical for heating. Germany figured out what they are doing is unsustainable and is removing windmills to build an open pit coal mine for dependable coal powered electricity.

Even our wood burning fireplace insert uses electricity to run the fan. I was raised in a natural gas home and everyone was healthy and warm. Growing up in winter we fought for a spot to put our cold feet over the register blowing warm air. Contrary to what we hear or read electricity is not and won’t be cheaper than natural gas. I have the bills to prove it. In the last twelve months we paid almost $5,000 for electricity. That doesn’t include what we paid for wood for our fireplace to stay warm and lower our electricity cost.

Our children and friends who have natural gas heat pay a fraction of what we do for their electricity and natural gas combined. My rate per kilowatt hour increased over 30% this year. Other rate increases are pending. It was just announced that natural gas rates are going DOWN in West Virginia. Lynnda and I travel for business and vacation. In the last 12 months we were away from home for at least 8 weeks reducing our power demand. Imagine the cost of electricity for families who use much more power.

Seeing the power bill my initial reaction was to blame the power company. Then I realized power companies have been forced to make decisions based on regulations and public policy. Dominion is building an off-shore wind project near Virginia Beach. The cost is now predicted to be close to $10 billion. This will cost Virginia’s rate payers. Wind availability and strength is unpredictable. Dominion isn’t required to guarantee energy production levels or cover the increased cost of replacement power if the wind project can’t produce power. That is the rate payers responsibility. A big concern is where replacement power will come from if baseload coal and nuclear power plants continue to be shut down with natural gas production and pipelines restricted.

To meet public policy and regulatory requirements my electricity provider has added renewable production and shutdown coal power plants. They upgraded their system at a cost. They have done a good job of keeping my power on 24/7 365 even when the weather suddenly gets very cold, cloudy or the wind stops blowing. As an engineer, I know replacing large amounts of interruptible power instantaneously is a challenge. We haven’t had any blackouts or brownouts except for the usual trees falling on lines or an occasional transformer problem. That isn’t true in other parts of the country. Over 200 people died in Texas 2 years ago when a hard freeze shut down their electric grid. People can freeze to death without electricity.

I don’t care how my heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer is produced as long as it is dependable and economical. This region can do both. We have abundant energy opportunities of all types that can work together efficiently. Government picking winners and losers through current public policy and regulations is raising energy costs artificially. If our politicians and regulators drive more U.S. manufacturing overseas to places like China they will create the global environmental disaster they want to avoid. High energy costs hurt everyone especially those who can least afford it. We need leaders at the state and especially federal level who have common sense and care more about people than politics. We can lead too.

Greg Kozera, [email protected] is Director of Marketing and Sales for Shale Crescent USA. www.shalecrescentusa.com (You can follow SCUSA on Facebook) He is a professional engineer with a Masters in Environmental Engineering and over 40 years’ experience in the energy industry. Greg is a leadership expert, high school soccer coach, professional speaker, author of four books and numerous published articles.

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