Utilities Want Us to Save Them, Rather than Saving Themselves

Climate Change Utilities War

            Marble Falls      There was an energy crisis before the current climate-change continual crises during the Jimmy Carter presidency in 1979, more than forty years ago, that was driven by a drop in oil production during the Iranian revolution.  President Carter spoke to Americans and the world in his famous “malaise” speech, where he worried about polls that indicated that we were in a “moral and spiritual crisis” in the wake of our defeat in Vietnam, because the United States could no longer drive the world.  His pronouncements were meant to encourage Americans to turn the thermostat down to 65 degrees, take your petal off the metal at 55 mph, and conserve energy anyway we could in the “moral equivalent to war.”  He also proposed legislation against windfall profits and some other measures and allowed interest rates to move up to 18%, but we’ll stick to talking about energy for now.

Introducing his own version of neoliberalism where it would be our voluntary efforts as citizens and residents of this great country to solve the problem by using less, he hoped forty-three years ago that we would solve this problem without regulations or forcing industry and government to act so much as mind our own gas-guzzling behavior.  The history is clear, and it is equally clear that no lesson was learned then.  We are continuing to wear dunce caps at the back of the room while industry and too much of government maintains its hectoring and lecturing, no matter how little good it does.

Ukrainians, caught in a war with Russia where their missiles are specifically targeting energy sources while also having sanctions curtail oil and gas supply to power there and throughout Europe, are facing a cold and dark winter, so they will be force-fed the lessons about altering fuel supplies.  In the USA, faced with drought, fires, hurricanes and other cataclysmic attacks on our energy supply from local utilities, amazingly, we are too often dialing back to Carter and his cardigans and hearing pleas from the companies about conservation, rather than reading the headlines about steps they are taking to harder the system against crises and accelerate diversification of alternative energy sources and manufacturing efficiencies that will reduce demand and increase energy security.  As a Wall Street Journal headline said recently, “Utilities Hope You’ll Fix Their Power Problems.”  They cleaned up the print headline to the online version, but it’s still déjà vu, all over again!

FERC Commissioner Allison Clements was clear: “Extreme weather is not going away and across the country historically the system hasn’t been planned for the set of conditions we’re facing.”  Indeed, but the question remains, why not?  Why with more than forty years of warnings and increasing catastrophes are companies – and their regulators – still talking conservation rather that capital improvements?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about conservation, and we’ve got the sweaters to prove it, but that’s more about hope than a plan.  In the energy crisis world, we live it, it’s not “Remember the Alamo!”, when we think about Texas, but “Remember the Texas Grid Failure of 2021!”

The companies are talking about demand-response programs, where they demand, and we respond by using less.  In some cases, they are making it pay for customers. Many are hawking smart thermostats that will allow them to shut your systems down when they need help, but, heck, I can’t trust Entergy to give me a correct reading on our bill or my co-op to bill me at all, so am I really going to let them control my house?

You know the answer to that question.  We’ll do our part and then some, but we want to see energy companies step up to climate change and the 21st century and do right.  We want real public service regulators that kick them in the butt until they do so.  How about that for a change?  I think old man, Carter, would even agree that it takes more than 65 degrees and a cardigan to deal with this now.