This post is third in my series of moving angst.
If you could–by paying 30% more–have your electricity be 100% renewable (wind and solar) instead of 40% coal/60% natural gas, would you do it? Why or why not?
If an entire community were proposing this, I would consider it; if it’s an option for an isolated household here and there, no way. We’ve seen this kind of thing in places where individual households can choose to pay a premium to sort their own trash and have it picked up by a recycler. A few scattered participants don’t have an appreciable effect on the environment, and (at least with recycling) haven’t inspired their neighbors to join the program in numbers sufficient to have that appreciable effect. To bear the expense while achieving nothing is pointless.
About that 40% coal: my father, who was a petrochemical engineer, noted that electric cars at the time increased air pollution because their electricity came from coal-fired plants that emitted more pollution per mile than did gasoline-powered vehicles.
Ardis, we are moving to an area with energy deregulation, which means that this isn’t a community-wide thing but just our decision for our household. I’m struggling over my commitment to exercising good stewardship over the resources combined with my natural frugality combined with my real lack of understanding of the environmental issues involved.
I’d pick the renewable, but it helps that I’ve already got such a low per-kilowatt-hour cost that 30% more would only put me at 5 1/2 cents on the kwh (for a total increase of less than $30/month), which is still lower than most everyone else in the nation. Already 20% of my power is wind-generated, and about 2% hydro. I’d like to see more solar, and think we will be seeing more of that in the near future (10 years).
Yes–especially if you are thinking of living there long-term. While, as Ardis points out, you may not have much impact on saving the world, why not have as little contribution to destroying it as possible?
BTW, last I saw, nuclear power generates 70% of France’s electricity. I still like that option.
nuclear power is the way to go. France is a smart country. All the nuclear power plants in America run at 100% capacity every day.
As far as renewable energy, it would depend on what part of the country one lives in. In the Southwest, participating in some kind of solar energy power would work, because of the amount of sun you get down there. Windy areas are great for wind power. However, with both wind and sun, the problem lies in the sun not being out every hour of the day, and the wind dying down at times. When that happens, you have to compensate from more traditional sources.
At this point in my life, as much as I believe we are contributing to pollution in the air, I have other priorities that are of greater concern in my life, and don’t have the time to begin creatively looking for alternative energy sources.
I’d take the coal and natural gas house. There’s something very cool about the fossil fuels that almost nobody mentions. Specifically, the history of our planet has been so steeped in death, that this history of death (both plant and animal) provides a nearly inexhaustible store of fuels to 21st century humans.
It’s worth noting that we’ll never run out of fossil fuels. As they become more scarce, they’ll become more expensive. As soon as they become appreciably more expensive than the 2nd cheapest type of fuel, they’ll be used less and less frequently. They’ll eventually become too expensive to be used at all. This will happen long before we run out of them.
Combine this with the fact that unused fossil fuel has no economic value, and it’s pretty obvious that you should just go with the house that’s most economical for you.
Julie, I assume that you’re just picking a power provider, not picking a house which provides it’s own power on site via solar panels and it’s own windmill?
You should do the opposite of whatever DKL says.
This kind of “stewardship” calculus is very tricky. For example, some estimates show that refining and processing the materials needed for passive solar heating (like glass and aluminum) may use more energy than a passive solar home will save over its expected useful life. The same is true for photoelectric cells if you are generating electricity that way.
You may be better off to take the fossil fuel powered home and try to drive less.
Ann: You should do the opposite of whatever DKL says.
I completely agree.
…unused fossil fuel has no economic value…
Not true, so long as anyone is willing to pay for it (which is, in the end, what “economic value” means). Currently, the price for oil futures (fossil fuel not yet used) is above $60/barrel.
I’d take the renewable energy, no questions (except that my husband might disagree). While Ardis is completely right that it will have almost no effect on the environment, I disagree that the expense acheives nothing. It is something, even if it’s a very small something. I think I can do more to cut pollution in my state than I can to bring peace to the world, even though peace is a far greater concern to me. I do what I can, and this sounds like an easy way to do something.
And yes, I am an overly frugal person.
Of course, we all know that DKL hales from Crete.
Me? I’d fork over the additional 30%. So what if you’re not joined by everyone else in the neighborhood.
If I understand the gospel, we’re not here on earth to maximize our individual economic value equations. (*note, it isn’t hard to argue that I don’t understand the gospel.*)
I doubt you are doing anything like what is discussed here, but I thought of a WSJ op-ed froma few days ago when I read you post. It’s an interesting read: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB117462054041346510.html?mod=taste_primary_hs
Hmmm. I worry about mercury pollution from solar batteries–so I question the solar power solution. Where I live we can see the wind power on the hills–but then activists hate them because they kill hundreds of birds and endangered owls. There really is no perfect solution.
Thanks for the comments, all.
And the issue is simply which power plan to go for: most of the electricity companies here let you choose between a ‘standard’ plan and a ‘green’ plan. No solar panels on the house, no different house.
Yes. Go Renewable.
Basically your 30% more will underwrite the marginal cost of renewable energies. If this plan is like other plans, the power that your house receives will not necessarily be renewable 100% of the time, but your money will go to pay for the marginal cost of whatever kWh of electricity you use. (This eliminates the concern about power outages raised by Dan in comment 7.)
Your choice to support renewables could be seen as two investments: 1) in the health of the planet, and 2) in the development of renewable technology that will ultimately help the technology become cost competitive, helping everyone to contribute more economically to the health of the planet.
Power plants are MAJOR polluters. Coal-fired plants emit particulate matter (a fine dust), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide, pollutants known to cause respiratory problems, acid rain, and global warming.
Jim F. (15): The problem with the Cretan paradox is all the cretins.
That said, I agree with DKL, both that I’d take the coal/ngas (at least at first) and that Julie should do the opposite of whatever DKL says. (And tangentially and thirdly that â€œrenewabilityâ€ is not the concern at all. /end agreement with DKL. â€œEcological impactâ€ is the concern. Even if we had an unlimited supply of fossil fuels, burning them into the atmosphere would still be a bad idea. /end tangent.)
Letâ€™s say a family of five uses 2000 kWh/month at about $0.09/kWh or about $180/month; thus, a 30% increase is about $60/month, which, Iâ€™m guessing, is between 0.5 and 1.5% of the annual income. So, if I were committed to spending 1.5% of my income ($60/month) on bettering humansâ€™ relationship with the physical environment Iâ€™d probably…
Well, I’d probably not be that committed; I’d be more likely to support ecclesiastical or humanitarian efforts. But, if I felt like I was in a position to diversify my saving-the-world investment portfolio I’d (1) Reduce the energy footprint of my house (better insulation, windows, ventilation, etc.). This saves me money and decreases my environmental impact. (Just because the cake is fat-free doesnâ€™t mean I get to eat all of it; a healthy diet manages portion size and calorie source.) How long this takes at $60/month depends on the condition of my house, but letâ€™s say itâ€™s three years.
Then, (2) I donâ€™t know. Iâ€™d consider spending my $60/month on (a) third-world humanitarian developmentâ€”like the PEF or some other micro-lending outfitâ€”which is good for people and good for the environment (and good for people because itâ€™s good for the environment); (b) the green energy plan, for the reasons given in earlier comments; and (c) a more fuel efficient car (the next time I bought a car).
Go with the green energy plan, Julie. Every person who does so sends a signal to those who profit from our energy systems regarding consumer priorities, and thus generates further pressure for change. Unless your budget is genuinely strapped, $60 a month isn’t too much to communicate your interest in renewable, less environmentally destructive energy sources, the same way paying extra for recycling does. Is there waste and/or complications and/or unreasonable assumptions at work in such energy plans? Sure, the same way there is in most recycling plans. But you should do it anyway, because it contributes at least a tiny bit to changing collective priorities, which in the long run is what is really going to matter.
Edje brings up some good points though. If your priority is your own personal environmental footprint, well, changing energy consumption habits is the real priority. Switch to more expensive but longer lasting light bulbs, shop around for a more efficient water heater, etc. That’ll be costly up front, but leave to both savings and a more green lifestyle in time.
Of course, ideally you should do both, but then ideally we’d also all have enough money to buy brand new hybrids and electric cars. So it really depends on the time and cash you have available after all other expensives have been covered. Still, I’d say the green energy plan is a good thing.
The phrase “send a message” is code for doing something utterly futile that serves only to assuage unfounded guilt. A power bill is not a political statement. It is a monthly family expense. Minimize it. If you actually want something good to come from it, donate the money you save to a decent charity. There are real people who can actually benefit from such donations. There’s no concrete sense in which it does any good to refrain from using hydrocarbons.
“The phrase ‘send a message’ is code for doing something utterly futile that serves only to assuage unfounded guilt.”
Kind of like disinvesting from South Africa because your company disapproved of apartheid back in the 1980s. Absolutely; completely futile; made no difference whatsoever.
“Thereâ€™s no concrete sense in which it does any good to refrain from using hydrocarbons.”
Unless, of course, you are one of those people who have foolishly allowed certain (no doubt completely paranoid) scientists to convince you that the planet would be moderately better off if fewer people used hydrocarbons.
“Kind of like disinvesting from South Africa because your company disapproved of apartheid back in the 1980s. Absolutely; completely futile; made no difference whatsoever.”
True story: I (mis)spent half of my youth arguing about dis-investing in South Africa in the back of a high school debate classroom.
Fast-forward a decade. I go to church one morning and, during fast and testimony meeting, a (black) man gets up and announces he’s visiting from South Africa for some academic conference and then bears his testimony. I grab him after the meeting and invite him over for dinner.
I had to ask him. And he said that dis-investing was the worst thing anyone could have done–it meant that people were too busy trying to feed their families to protest.
Moral: we should take the 30% and save for a big SUV .
-In my mind, prices are usually a better reflection of real impact than feel-gooder stories that focus on just one pollutant from one particular type of power source.
-A booming economy is demonstrably the single most important factor leading to environmental improvement, in my mind.
-I usually don’t think the political is personal.
-DKL is right that using the 30% for charitable purposes is probably a more effective use of the money.
I would be open to getting solar panels for my house, though that costs more over the long run than just buying electricity. The moral value here is self-sufficiency.
I’m also in favor of energy-saving measures at the house. The moral value here is thrift and economy.
In the long run, doing things to improve third world economies will have a far better impact on the environment than subsidizing inefficient power sources here in the US. I agree with the commentator who do energy-efficient stuff at the house and then donate the money to PEF.
“And he said that dis-investing was the worst thing anyone could have doneâ€“it meant that people were too busy trying to feed their families to protest.”
For whatever it’s worth, Nelson Mandela, F.W. de Klerk, Desmond Tutu, and numerous other South African movers and shakers, all would have disagreed with your visitor. So far as I know, while none have ever claimed sanctions made all the difference in the world, all are on the record stating that, with riots, boycotts, and strikes nearly constant by the mid-80s, with the value of the South African rand plummeting and foreign banks unwilling to rescind or reschedule payments on debts the South African government owed, sanctions and the disinvestment campaign was for many business leaders the last straw, and thus played a major role in the emergence of the political will amongst the white power structure to compromise with the ANC. You didn’t mispend your high school days, Julie.
Julie, as a general rule the only reason not to take the cheaper of two otherwise comparable options is that the price does not adequately reflect the social cost, In the case of fossil fuels, there is a reasonable case to be made that the pollutants are obnoxious enough to be a social cost on the order of the 30% price difference. In which case it would be reasonable (and altruistic) to go with the renewables. On the other hand…
When you use fewer fossil fuels, other people tend to use more because the price goes down. Thus one’s goodwill efforts tend to be undercut. This gets more dramatic the less the supply of fuels responds to price. The most extreme case is If the fuel supply is fixed; then your personal reduction makes no difference whatsoever. Also, apparently there are real questions about the total efficiency gain from solar, etc., since they can use a lot of resources to produce. So I guess you can probably feel good either way. But if I were you and determined to help the world with $60 (or whatever), I’d just put the money into decent humanitarian aid of some sort. Or get piano lessons for your kids. Those can create positive social gains in the Church and the pain is good for children.
Most recycling programs, on the other hand, are almost surely a waste of resources.
Russell Arben Fox: For whatever itâ€™s worth, Nelson Mandela, F.W. de Klerk, Desmond Tutu, and numerous other South African movers and shakers, all would have disagreed with your visitor.
It’s worth noting that these are folks upon whom divesting had no financial impact whatever. I mean, really: Does our embargo of Cuba hurt Castro? Plus, politicians (which I take to include low-life’s like Tutu) have a substantial personal interest in demonstrating power by impacting the behavior of nations; you don’t really expect them to admit that it’s counter-productive, do you?
I also find it odd that the same anti-Reagan crowd that maintains that the fall of the Soviet Union was inevitable, argues vehemently that every last gesture made toward South Africa’s apartheid was efficacious.
It’s really pretty silly for you to be so strident about something that you obviously don’t know a heck of a lot about.
I don’t think my comment was particularly strident. Neither do I claim to be any kind of expert on the subject. I’m just passing along what I’ve read–and what I’ve read suggests that a great many of the people who were in a position to see the big picture have said, “Yes, sanctions did help create the atmosphere of desperation that drove the white elite to finally compromise.” If you have lots of rival sources with equal claims to insight, by all means, lay them on me.
Also, for what it’s worth, I think Reagan’s military build-up, and the great economic costs it placed on the already failing Soviet military, had a pretty substantial impact on the collapse of the Soviet Union. Not the least reason for my belief in such being that Gorbachev himself has said so.
I served in SA from 1993-1995.
Here is my take on the sanctions.
1. They worked and forced the white leadership to the table with the ANC
2. Sanctions were tough on everybody in SA financially. But Esp blacks
3. I agree with you on Tutu
4. ANC will ruin SA. See Zimbabwe for reference
5. Apartheid was a great moral evil that divided fathers from families and stunted the development of countless millions of blacks and mixed race people in SA. Its neo-nazi links are well documented
6. Blacks under apartheid actually had a better standard of living then most blacks in Africa but the situation was unjust and the conditions could have been much much better
7. The gospel appears to be flourishing in the black townships of SA.
The amount of green energy you use will be the same whether you pay the extra 30% or not, just like your neighbors. You are simply paying a premium asking the power company to buy some of their energy (the amount you used) from green sources. It doesn’t mean they hook you up to a green grid. If you live in the east, most of your energy will come from fossil fuels, whether you pay for green or not. The true environmental impact is very small unless a critical mass of customers demand green energy. Unless your power company is a PUD, you would be padding the power companies bottom line more than you are helping the environment.
Of course, I use the same irrational arguement for taxes. My taxes go to pay for schools, roads, and military and not the programs I dislike. Go for it if it makes you feel better.
I agree with the self-investing in a greener house or donating your “extra” $60/month to a green charity. That will have a greater impact than paying a green premium to your power company. Another idea: give the $60 to my mom if she retires her ’73 Plymouth Duster (9 mpg gas/1 qt per 100 mile oil)–that will have a greater impact than any of the aforementioned suggestions.
We were planning to use a Green Power program, which lets customers designate a portion of their electric consumption to wind-generated electricity, when we move back to Colorado this summer. According to the utility company there, “Green Power costs an additional $2.58 per month for every 100-kilowatt hour block purchased. More than 1,000 customers currently participate in the Green Power program.” Alas, the Green Power program is currently sold out. Whether that means the power company was losing money on it and decided to stop, or whether it means the available wind energy is all allocated, I can’t tell.
Julie, I think you should go with the lower cost option, and invest the difference in third world development or some other charity of your choice. Alternate energy sources right now all have as many downsides to the environment as up. What would make a difference is investing in efficiency in your home. For instance, replace every incandescent bulb you can with the spiral fluorescents. Go one size up in brightness to keep a comperable light level, and you still save enormously over the life of the bulb. Bulbs on dimmers and bulbs exposed to moisture can’t be replaced, by the way.
Each time you buy a major appliance, furnace, or air conditioner, invest more in the more efficient one. Double glaze your windows. Add insulation to your attic. The cool thing about efficiency is that you save way more than the energy you would have used. Each step in the chain of bringing electricity to your house has inefficiencies. From mining the coal or gas, to shipment, burning, generation, and transmission, each step loses some of the energy. When you save 5kw hrs at your plug then you end up saving perhaps 100 in the entire chain. Efficiency is a very smart way to be green, as well as saving you money.
Forget the wind or solar power, though. As of now it’s not really green in anything but name.
Baby needs college tuition. I’d be looking out for #1 on this.