May 4, 2009

Over-reliance on Fossil Fools Spells Trouble for SC

Below is an excerpt from an opinion piece published in The State. Read the whole thing here.
Thu, Apr. 30, 2009
Moore, Wislinski, Schretzmann-Jebaily: The real costs of carbon
Guest Columnists

Santee Cooper and SCE&G complained in a recent news article that placing a price on carbon emissions, which Congress is now considering, will cause their customers’ electricity rates to rise. (“S.C. utilities wary of proposal,” April 20.)

What the utilities did not say is that electricity rates for these same customers have already been rising, and will continue to rise as long as these utilities rely on fossil fuels for large portions of their energy production. Coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels, has gone up in cost by 60 percent over the past five years. Santee Cooper in particular has been foolishly wedded to this power source for too long — and insists upon another large coal plant even as we write this piece.

The plain fact is that as soon as we get out of this recession, we can expect these utilities’ costs to rise anyway as they compete with other utilities and other countries for this diminishing resource.

The article did not mention the important fact that President Obama’s proposed clean energy/jobs plan will provide money for making buildings more energy-efficient, reducing the need for generating more electricity and saving money for consumers. This is not an insignificant component. Already because of state-mandated energy-efficiency measures, California uses half as much electricity per capita as the rest of the country. This did not bankrupt California or its energy consumers. They have prospered. In fact, these savings are helping that state weather tough economic times.

Unfortunately, the S.C. utilities prophesying gloom and doom have put relatively few resources toward promoting energy-efficiency, while spending enormous sums on building new power plants and lobbying Columbia and Washington to keep the status quo. Little wonder: They are rewarded for producing energy, not for saving it. While this might have been good for their profit margin in the years gone by, it is disastrous for the rest of us and has made South Carolina dependent upon importing coal from other states.

Continuing to burn fossil fuels at an ever-accelerating rate is ravaging our environment. Whether it is mountaintop removal in West Virginia or Kentucky, which has resulted in hundreds of miles of streams being buried under toxic rubble, or mercury poisoning, which has resulted in many fish in South Carolina’s black-water rivers being dangerous for human consumption, or global warming, which is starting to change the very conditions under which we live, there are many reasons for limiting our use of these damaging fuels.

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