Prepare for electric bills to skyrocket

January 9, 2018

"Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it,"
Adapted from Mathew 7

Stephen Hawking, who is supposed to be the smartest man on earth, predicts that if we don't do something about global warming, the earth will burn up by the year 2600. If we don't drown first because of sea-level rise, perhaps.

In other news:

It is a make-or-break year for Tesla and Elon Musk. Eventually, a company that makes cars has to sell some cars, and a lot of them. In other words, they need to make a profit.

Wawa has installed some Tesla refueling stations at its stores. It's not like you think, folks.

You can't just plug your electric car into the wall socket or the equivalent you see in some towns in far northern climates to heat your engine. No, to fuel it in less than quite a few hours, you need a special electric device that will charge your battery quicker. But it still takes a lot longer than your friendly gas pump.

There is growing opposition to offshore wind farms. Even the big progressive majority in Massachusetts objected to a wind farm off the coast toward Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.

Might disrupt the pristine view from places like Hyannis Port, much the same way the oil rigs off Corpus Christi, Texas, disrupt the view of the Gulf of Mexico.

Same thing off Rehoboth Beach, perhaps.

Some, like Hawking no doubt, want to do away with fossil fuels as soon as possible, preferably yesterday. Others, such as this scribbler, say we need to explore all sources of energy, including renewables such as wind and solar. We should also include nuclear, though the liberal environmentalists will surely oppose building any new nuclear power plants with all their might.

This even though there have been only two serious nuclear incidents in the last 50 years, these being in Chernobyl, Ukraine (while still a part of the Soviet Union) and Fukushima, Japan.

In the Chernobyl case, the horrific accident was caused by a bunch of drunk Russians playing around with the controls. Fukushima was caused by an earthquake and the ensuing tsunami. Putting a nuclear reactor in an earthquake zone is a bad idea. Duh.

But we digress. This isn't an essay about nuclear power, worthy though that is. Rather, it is an essay about alternative sources of energy here in Delaware and elsewhere. To put it pejoratively, it's an essay about liberals' desire to rocket us back into the 19th century when horses and bicycles and coal-fired, steam locomotives were our means of locomotion.

The next thing to say is that everyone should be encouraged to put solar panels on their roofs even though they aren't the loveliest sights in the world. Everyone who has solar panels raves about how much it saves on their electric bills. And isn't it nice when the electric meter runs in reverse - when you are selling electricity back to the utility.

But having said all these nice things about alternative sources, it is well to keep the downsides in mind as well.

First, when the sun doesn't shine or the wind doesn't blow, we Americans still have some expectation that electricity will still be available. We aren't North Korea, where the lights shine only a few hours a day, or some third-world country where electricity is sporadic and iffy. Or worse, in some rural area where electricity doesn't exist except through generators (running on gasoline or diesel).

Hence, utility companies still have to build generating capacity to cover when the sun doesn't shine or the wind doesn't blow. Some of that electricity will be generated by coal.

Second, if we are to expect half our cars to be pure electric, then not only will the utilities have to have capacity for when the sun doesn't shine, etc., but also have to increase generating capacity to run those cars. That means reactivating a lot of coal plants and building more. Or building a lot more natural gas pipelines.

Or, heaven forfend, a lot more fracking in Pennsylvania, Ohio, the Dakotas and the Permian Basin of West Texas, to extract that gas - of which we have a lot - to make those electric turbines go round and round.

Or, of course, we could return to bicycles and horses. You don't get from the East Coast to the West Coast in five hours with bicycles or horses. Nor do you get there in three or four days by train when the locomotive is burning coal to create steam.

So, if you insist on alternative sources, be prepared for one or two or perhaps three things, or perhaps all:

One. Much higher electric rates. When approval was refused for operational permits for the Long Island Lighting Company, it had to shut down the Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island Sound. Electric rates on the island doubled or tripled.

Two. A lot more coal will be burned. Get ready for NRG to reactivate those three mothballed coal generating units at Indian River.
Prepare for six coal trains a day through Milford and Georgetown rather than the one currently.

Three. Or, finally, prepare for a natural gas pipeline of rather substantial proportions to be built through Sussex County. If we suppose that NRG will revive those three units burning natural gas, then we need a big new pipeline. Prepare for lawsuits without end. Prepare for dithering at DNREC as it weighs the options between coal and a pipeline.

Bottom line: Prepare for your electric bill to go through the roof like Elon Musk's Space-X rocket headed for Mars.

Reid Beveridge has covered politics in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He is now retired at Broadkill Beach.


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