Decision Time: Invest In Distributed, Versus Central Power & More High Voltage Transmission Lines?

us electricity demand growth

US electricity demand projections...low but continuing rate. Image credit:USEIA

Most of the last remaining State electricity rate caps will have fallen away by the end of this year. Recent and coming electric bill increases - stemming from both "rate cap removal" and higher-priced coal - tend to be in the 20% and higher range. "Coal-Dems" and "Tea Partiers" won't have Cap & Trade to blame, however, as the higher bills are mainly the result of the deregulation fervor present during the Clinton Administration (an Administration which helped make deregulation more popular by 'triangulating' into the middle of the Republican Revolution). And no, EPA is not the primary cause of recent coal price increases. China is. (See the NY Times article: Nations That Debate Coal Use Export It to Feed China's Need)

Increased electric bills are an especially painful burden on those who have lost their jobs; and, high-cost electricity makes it harder to expand the US manufacturing base. But much more is at stake than just personal or corporate hardship. Distributed power is the cleaner, the more cost-effective way of satisfying added consumer and industry electricity demand.With North Korean military aggression against South Korea currently in the spotlight, revising international banking and currency policy to favor US job creation has just lost diplomatic priority. That reality acknowledged, overall electricity demand in the USA is still projected to gradually increase (as pictured in above graphic)
Somehow, as time passes, we will need to make and deliver more juice.
Seth Blumsack, an economist in the College of Engineering at Pennsylvania State University, has highlighted the only feasible alternate path to satisfy demand growth, one which would obviate hundreds of coal plant additions and upgrades, reduce the need for more high transmission lines through forest land, and so on.

In his feature article in IEEE Spectrum, How the Free Market Rocked the Grid, Seth explains that favoring distributed power and conservation together would be the only realistic alternatives to the central power and big grid status quo.

The real question facing the United States now is whether it can maintain reliable electricity grids without building lots of new transmission lines and big power plants. The only realistic alternative to such massive construction projects is for the generation of electricity to become more widely distributed, coupled with substantial efforts in energy efficiency. Electricity markets will surely have to become more expansive and open to accommodate that inevitable evolution. And they will also require new technical standards and, yes, some new forms of regulation.
Seth is dead on with his analysis. Political battles over related investment and regulatory choices - whether to favor a future dominated by central vs distributed power - will be bitter and protracted, beginning with the first US Congressional sessions of 2010.

Want to know which state congressional delegations will most favor central power expansions? Here's a good clue: coal dependency.


Update: We absolutely need to purge the phrases 'green power' and 'green jobs'. Every time someone writes or argues for investment in 'green power' they play into the hands of the radical right - giving ammo to attack on the basis that green power proponents overlook the public debt issue, or that they are just pushing a climate change agenda, calling it something else. There is no need to push the 'green jobs' mantra either. Saying you would prefer investment in distributed power initiatives is sufficient.

More posts on power bill increases.
Coal State Electric Bills Rising 7% To 100% - Even Without Cap & Trade
Let The Electric Bill Outrage Begin: As Two-Month Cold Snap ...
The Electric Bill That Makes You Smile

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