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But Is It Cheap?

June 3, 2013 – It’s interesting, on a number of levels, that leaders of the Atlanta Tea Party (ATP) are challenging utility company Georgia Power over its reluctance to increase use of solar power.  That, and the escalating costs of construction of a new nuclear power plant.  First and foremost, I’m perplexed that ATP co-founder Julianne Thompson found it necessary to assert that the organization’s position “certainly isn’t anything personal.”  Why is she denying what no one thinks is true to begin with?  Does she believe she is pre-empting other questions as well, by making a rhetorical statement?  She goes on to say that ”one of our core values is promoting the free-market system.”
The San Francisco Chronicle expands on this remark by pointing out that the electricity market in Georgia is not free.  Electric utilities have exclusive rights to serve customers in designated areas of the state; the majority of customers cannot choose their provider.  While this type of monopoly works well insofar as eliminating duplication of effort (the state does not need more than one system of wiring and pipes to deliver electricity and gas), the state must also be careful to regulate price when competition isn’t present.

A number of states, including Texas and most of the Northeast, regulate power delivery, but customers can select their provider.  Customers can select companies that provide options like renewable power or a slate of pricing categories (the state in which I live, Ohio, offers these options).  Not only do ATP members relish this opportunity, but polls reveal that Tea Party members distrust centralized authority, believing it to be an inevitable invitation to price increases.  Tea Party members also do not like prices to go up even when there is a commensurate benefit.
In May, another ATP co-founder, Debbie Dooley, lobbied Republican utility regulators to mandate that Georgia Power use more solar energy.  ( Solar energy’s connection to free markets and  competitive pricing remains very unclear to me. )  The state’s Public Service Commission, of which regulators are a part, is currently deciding if Georgia Power’s long-term plans to meet state energy needs is viable.  ATP members would actually like to see Georgia Power’s monopoly revoked, something which at this point is considered unlikely.

Commissioner Stan Wise (R) is doubtless typical in his reaction to ATP’s demands.  Like so many in his party, he believes the choice between conventional energy sources and solar energy should be based solely on economics .  The fact is, neither he nor ATP members take into consideration the environmental benefits of solar power.  Commissioner Wise goes so far as to accuse unnamed others as displaying a “kneejerk reaction that says if it’s solar, it has to be good.”  While I applaud ATP members’ insistence that nonconventional sources of energy be included in Georgia Power’s mix of generating possibilities, the collective ignorance of all parties concerned with regard to solar power’s most beneficial aspect cannot bode well. 
To my way of thinking, ignorance is a vacuum that ought to be filled with information.  As you and I both know, nature abhors a vacuum.

With thanks to the San Francisco Chronicle.


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