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Letter: The truth about energy today

Recent writers to the editor, John Clauer and John Parks state, “they continue to see letters...that oppose the Enbridge pipeline...the accuracy of the arguments...deserves examination.”

I see the need to examine the truth about energy today. Clauer and Park cite statistics from the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank whose board is dominated by Exxon – Mobil, Dow Chemical, Wall Street Investment firms, and big banks, not exactly people you would want to trust with the environment or your money. The truth is these corporations have been extremely effective in de-regulating environmental protections in our country. When they have spills or disasters, and ordinary people resort to courts for damages, they are tied up in perpetual appeals or polluters file bankruptcy, like the recent chemical spills in West Virginia or in Ecuador where one of the largest oil spills in history still remains unresolved while more Ecuadorians have died as a result than all those killed in the 911 attacks.. In reality, in the USA, it’s a race to the bottom concerning environmental protections thanks to big oil and people and groups like the Koch Brothers and Exxon.

Rather than cite some left-wing set of statistics, I will cite Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which normally is a backward-looking trade group of U.S. investor-owned utilities. In a report EEI in January 2013, they tell of their soon-to-come obsolescence due to the dropping costs of solar and wind over oil, coal, and gas. They acknowledge that it’s coming and it’s getting cheaper and it’s going to put them out of business.

The energy generated by solar panels on residential or commercial roofs is not utility-owned or utility-purchased and is something anyone can easily do. I put in a small stand alone solar system, off the grid for under $7,000 – my electric provider wanted $4,000 to connect to the grid, ten years ago, and the costs would be double or triple today. From the utility’s point of view, every kilowatt-hour of rooftop solar looks like a kilowatt-hour of reduced demand for the utility’s product. Not something any business enjoys. This is the same reason utilities are instinctively hostile to energy efficiency and demand programs, and why they must be compelled by regulations or subsidies to create them. Utilities don’t like reduced demand! It’s not cheap to drill/frac for oil or mine coal, you have humungous transportation costs, construction of corridors and the laying of pipelines or transmission lines. Solar or wind eliminates these extraneous costs. Your provider is no longer some oil field in North Dakota or coal field in Montana, it’s the sun and/or the wind. I do not get a bill from the sun!

Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers said, “If the cost of solar panels keeps coming down, installation costs come down and if they combine solar with battery technology and a power management system, then we have someone just using [the grid] for backup.”

In a MINNPOST story on Aug. 16, 2011, retiring Excel Energy director, Dick Kelly said: “I think one of the misconceptions is that many people believe that wind is just outrageously expensive. Truth is, wind power competes very well with natural gas. The technology is getting better. We are getting a lot more kilowatts out of our windmills now. Even solar has come down 50 percent in the last two years....I’d be OK if there were never any more coal.” And this goes for oil too!

Oil, coal, and energy utilities have controlled the dialogue with fallacies about oil, pipelines, and renewable energy too long. I applaud the courage of Ms. LaDuke and Ms. Kraft in speaking out. The needs, risks, and threats to human safety and environmental safety are too great.

Barry W. Babcock