Runaway power cost?

garymunson-2008June 5, 2008

Anyone else fear what's going to happen to power bills? It seems to me that sooner or later, the coal industry is going to start feeling like they're giving their product away compared to oil suppliers and the price of coal will start it's march up. Since so much power is generated by coal now in this country compared to oil in the past, our cost of electricity has been stable for a long time...drag out your old bills and you'll see about a 10% increase over 20 years. It's been held down by the increase in oil to coal plant conversion. I'd not be surprised to see a doubling in elecricity cost over the next few years. Any other thoughts on this?

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Expectations, not fear. There is a finite and non-renewable supply of both coal and oil. Most people do not comprehend either finite or non-renewable and do not believe that 'when it's gone, it's gone.'

The time element may be up for debate, but the day will come when the oil rigs only pull up the salt water they previously put down. IMHO, the Big Companies have an awareness of the date that will happen, and intend get as much money as possible before then. The chairmen and controlling management are human and share in the common lack-or inability- to understand that when one scrapes the bottom of the non-renewable pit, no more will magically appear. It doesn't take my crystal ball to say that the time will come when a kilo of polished diamonds will be cheaper and more available than a litre of gasoline. Right now gasoline is about ten times the cost of it when "finite" was never used in conjuntion with "oil field"; my crystal ball says to not be surprised to see today's prices multiplied by 10 within the next few years, and by 100 shortly after that.

However, it won't just be the monetary cost of power that will put the presently-available energy out of reach of our wallets, but the lack of gasoline for anything that is transported --- which is about 99% of the items in any local store. Go study sociology, psychology, and the people you know. Self-sufficiency is a joke for 99.99% of the population, and the population's reaction to the literally unavailability of fuel can be expected. It isn't anything to fear, but IMO, one would be justified to feel considerable terror.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2008 at 12:37PM
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the 2 years we were in our home our usage was horrendous. average usage was around 4500kwh, peak of around 6500kwh during july/aug and again jan/feb. house has 2 central hvac systems with electric strip heat and 1 of them was 30 years old and original to the home. 1st thing i did during the second year was to install setback tstats, and that cut us down by about 500kwh a month, but still WAY more than normal.

last year we replaced the 30 year old unit with a new higher efficiency heat pump. sinc ethen we average around 2500kwh and our peak was just under 4000kwh! if we had only 1 hvac system this would be even less, but the cost of running 2 systems is high. i still kick myself for not getting them to change it to 1 system last year, but then again i also like having the ability to basically only heat/cool the half of the house in use at any given time. for instance, neither runs much during the day then both run from around 5pm to 10 pm. at 10 the front unit again shuts down completely but the back unit continues to run off and on all night. then both run again for an hour or so each morning.

all our high use lights are cfl, and slowly i am switching hte others. my next big project is a green switch to kill all teh sat rx and tvs durign the day. we have so much electronic gizmos that phantom loads are killer.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2008 at 5:34PM
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Our area will be facing deregulation in a few years. I believe that will be a shock to the majority of users. The average electricity consumer takes for granted the ready availability of cheap power (and water, and food) in the USA. We are in the process of building a new house, incorporating as many energy-saving practices as we can reasonably afford. Unfortunately, our state offers no incentives for alternative/sustainable energy applications, so PV is not part of our build at present, but we are making provisions to incorporate it in the future.
But this is about more than energy's about future energy availability. Supply and demand, baby. Meldy_nva is right. Coal and oil are finite resources. And while the "Peak Oil" movement may seem kind of over-the-top paranoia, some of the concepts are not so far out. I realize that this is a politically charged topic, but conservation and development of renewable sources should be championed by our legislators. Unfortunately, it seems that the coal/oil lobbyists have more influence and $$. Hope I'm not sounding too preachy, but on this forum, I think I'm preaching to the choir. Just my 2 cents...

    Bookmark   June 11, 2008 at 7:23AM
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Our utility (semi-regulated monopoly) currently uses coal for electricity produtcion. Our current cost for residential consumption is $.116/kWh. But if you use more per month, the rate drops. This outdated industrial concept has to change.

There should be incentives, like a 20% rate reductions, for those who use less per month. The utility already keeps track of use per household by address and it would be easy to make this switch from an accounting perspective.

Our state utility regulatory commission is nothing more than puppets of the governor and rubber stamp whatever the utilities want. It seems no one with foresight is in charge. Maybe I should propose a new job for myself, appointed by the state legislature, to force changes in the old school utilities via the regulatory board.

The winds of change are blowing strong right now. Wind farms can generate electricity for about $.05/kWh. Highly capitalized investors then sell the electricity from the farms for .$10/kWh and the utility marks it up 10-20% for their costs/profit. So we end up paying about the same as coal but without all the negative environmental consequences. When I told my father-in-law about this, he was angry that businesses could be allowed to mark up so high something as necessary as electricity. Please correct me if my cost of production numbers are off.

The lowest cost structure for providing electricity is not through deregulation. California already proved this quite well. Multiple companies selling the same electricity locally only means wasted resources on marketing and overhead/profit. We just need a single utility (locally) that is well regulated, frugal, provides incentives for conservation, and generates using renewable sources.

My soapbox.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 2:44PM
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I think your wind power prices are correct from what I have been reading. Big wind has become competitive with other generation.

Not to defend the utilities, but the cost of the distribution system is large, so the difference between 5 cents they buy power for and the 11 cents they charge you goes partly to building and maintaining distribution.

I fully agree that coal needs to go as a power source, and that having a rate structure that rewards conservation and efficiency is very important. Our experience is that its pretty straightforward to cut electricity consumption by half without spending a lot of money or changing life style.
I think that a "feebate" system in which people who use little power get a below cost rate that is made up for by charging people who use a lot of power extra is a good way to go -- its revenue neutral, but gives people a real incentive to get more efficient.


    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 10:48PM
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They say the US has boosted its Nat Gas reserves by 50% by new methods of measuring reserves. Yet my gas bill just went up 30% in September.

Something wrong with that equation? A 50% rise in reserves yet my gas bill goes up 30%??

Can you imagine once all the cars and trucks start using CNG. NG prices will really skyrocket and large amounts of people will freeze to death.

We heat with NG and keep the thermostat set at 64 at night and keep the heat OFF during the day. If it is in the teens outside the house gets down into the low 50's in daytime. I usually turn on the heat around 9 PM and shut it down at 8 or 9 am.

To heat this 'part time' way cost us $325 a month for a modern, highly insulated 2400 sq ft house. (including garage as it has some water pipes in its ceiling).

Let's get real about renewable energy...a survivalists view

I marvel at some of the cornucopian's outlooks for our future.

Recently the cornucopians are putting their hopes in keeping the jets flying on algae oil?

Well, who knows??

I am not like the atheists that claim they know everything under the sun...I am just a lowly agnostic that in the end does not know.

But the cornucopians still have a way to go with algae powered jets. When the cornucopians can pave roads and make roofing shingles out of corn instead of asphalt and make tires out of sewage sludge instead of crude - maybe their time will have arrived.

Whether one is an intellectual, cornucopian or survivalist, they all have to live in the future to some extent with their thoughts.

The difference between a survivalist and the other two is this.

The intellectuals can keep their mind fixated on the future and fantasy as long as they want. They have no reckoning in the present. Their currency of trade is in 'thought' and not in practical application.

The survivalist on the other hand must come back to the present to prepare for and implement via 'practical application' what his future needs will be. As futurists we try to anticipate future events and the direction the
world is headed in and as survivalists we try to prepare for those circumstances.

So I'd suggest to Al Gore or any politician that takes up the renewable energy challenge to open up your eyes to truth of 'what is,' develop a survivalists mentality and not get lost in the fantasy of 'wishful thinking' with how you hope things to be.

But being truthful is lofty goal in and of itself for politicians, irrespective of changing our entire world when it comes to powering it.

The mantra of the ego based, power hungry politician is; "Give me power for a day and I hope the roof waits to falls in on the next guy and the music wont stop on my presidency." Everything they do while in office is aimed not at truth and what is best for our country, but at spin, lies and making themselves look good in the eye of the voters.

All you political knuckleheads that go to these rallies to kiss the asses of your political deities - pin them down on 'Peak Oil' and see what they say. What you will get is NOTHING from them. They could not utter the words Peak Oil if their life depended on it. So it goes with truth and politicians - they do not mix.

Al Gores proposed a challenge to both political candidates to switch all electric generation in the US from fossil fuels to renewables within 10 years. Mr. Gore is way off mark with what we will need for future energy generation in the US.

He has not addressed a realistic view of the problem. He needs to increase his goal to a minimum of 300% to 400% of our current electric generation capacity. Then he may be approaching what America will really need.

And I am conservative in my outlook. The actual number may be closer to 500% to 600% of our current capacity when we factor in the IF'S, AND'S & BUT'S.

In the US, 93.2% of our electric comes from nonrenewable, fossil burning or greenhouse gas producing methods.

If we are looking to hydroelectric and renewable sources, 4.46% of our electric comes from hydroelectric and 2.34% comes from renewable energy production.

Out of this 2.34% of renewable sources, an undisclosed portion still contributes to global warming despite its prestige of being a 'renewable energy source' as it involves the burning of wood, black liquor, wood waste, municipal solid waste, landfill gas, sludge waste, tires, agriculture byproducts and biomass.

Only a fraction of the 2.34% of renewable electric energy that is produced comes from geothermal, solar thermal, photovoltaic energy, and wind. These are the areas that Gore wishes to expand.

Electricity is where mankind will turn to for power requirements when all fossil fuels as well as uranium dry up in the near future.

We can see that humans love affair with fossil fuels will look like a blip on the screen of humans historical record on earth.


If you don't know what peak oil has to say about our world and don't want to read the rest of my post, then at least check out:

1) When everyone switches to electric cars and plug into the grid, the demand for electricity will go up tremendously.

2) Homes that use natural gas, propane, heating oil will switch to electricity as the fossil fuels will dry up. The highest demand areas such as heating our homes, heating water and cooking are areas that can't be done on practical basis with solar in many parts of the country

Sure if you life in CA or AZ you got some hope with the solar hot water. Maybe the NE can also get some hot water in the hot humid summers. But the goal of this massive energy change is to make it as seamless as possible. Proper planning is the difference between part time and full time power. Proper planning is the difference between less deaths versus massive deaths.

3) All trucks, trains and airplanes will have to find new power sources. Trains can switch to steam, electric or electromagnet. Truck may have to be smaller and run on electric or bio fuels. Farm equipment can be powered by bio fuels.

But all these bio fuels take away from our food production. We can see that adding 5% of corn ethanol does to the food picture - and we still use 95% gasoline. What will happen to food when we are 0% gas and 0% diesel and 100% bio fuels and ethanol?

Airlines? My prediction is they will eventually shut down. Although one commentator on CNBC puts her hopes in running planes on algae oil. Again time will tell. But as a survivalist I must go with 'what is' and not fantasy of the cornucopians.

In any case, trains, especially electric trains will be a big area of transport in our future both for products, food and people when airlines cease operate.

4) Population increase. More people = more demands for electric. When people feel bad they look for diversions from pain. If they can't get drugged up with alcohol or drugs, they also like some genital situation to escape a hellish life.

More sex = more people.

I don't see the pop trend changing any time soon unless people can't get food and starve or freeze from lack of heat.

5) Global warming - hotter people demand more electric for A/C.

6) Solar and wind are good supplemental power sources but crappy uninterrupted power sources. One person said that on average a wind farm that is spread out will yield power about 33% of the time, as the wind is blowing on average in some part of a large geographic area.

So, to make up for when the wind does not blow, we will need much larger scales of wind generation than we anticipate now. We get brownouts even with full capacity and fip the switch, fossil fueled convenience.

Exporting the power is another problem. We can make electricity in high wind areas, but will lose much of it if we have to export the wind generated electric long distances to the big cities.

Solar only works for a few hours a day in ideal circumstances...and does not work much at all if the sun is not out. Our countries power needs are 24 hours.
The sorry thing about electricity is it cannot be easily stored. (We can store the 'energy' of electricity by pumping water via electric pumps uphill and having the water drain back downhill to power a turbine at a later time.)

7) The US will go back to being a manufacturing nation and have to cut it's addiction to cheap Chinese and other foreign goods. All these cargo tankers run on diesel. So, as we cut back on shipping, local manufacturing will return more so out of design than by desire. More industrial manufacturing = more need for electricity.

8) Without energy our country is open for takeover ... no transport on the ground or in the air. Luckily we will still have nuclear powered submarines and aircraft carriers as long as the uranium holds out. But the jets on the flattop all use jet fuel. All the supplies for those subs and carriers petroleum dependent. Will our military be as successful as it is today when it is all electric? I don't know, but I do know an all electric military will drain the grids capacity even further.

As a survivalist I cannot afford to live in dream land as the mind manacled intellectuals and cornucopians do, I don't pretend to have a crystal ball and be able to predict the future. I can only prepare for 'possibilities' of what are to come.

Intellectuals and cornucopians put all their faith in predicting an unknown future that is based on lofty hopes, dreams and wishful thinking. Whereas the successful survivalist puts their hopes and dreams in preparing for an uncertain future and knows that 'wishful thinking' does not go far in life or death situations.

In Richard Heinberg's book 'Power-Down' he contrasts the survivalist mentality with that of the preservationist.
The wiki on this topic:

"A survivalist is a person who anticipates and prepares for a future disruption in local, regional or worldwide social or political order."
" a term distinguishing between survivalist groups who wish merely to survive a collapse of civilization, and communities who wish to preserve as much of human culture as is possible in the event of collapse."

Mr. Heinberg talked about a gene bank founded by Nikolai Vavilov in Russia and the dedicated preservationists that guarded the seed and gene pool. He went on to say how 9 of the scientists and workers starved to death because they refused to eat the seeds and tubers in the gene bank.

Now, I don't know if a few seeds or tubers would have made much difference in their surviving. But I can say a survivalist would have eaten the first one to die. While their efforts were most admirable, we can say their life was not an enviable one for us to emulate. And in the end they failed miserably at self preservation and survival.

But Mr. Heinberg brings up a good point - balancing the two areas of survival with preservation. For we may well survive, but if we do not preserve a semblance of a somewhat livable world to survive in, we may not wish to survive in what remains.

In summation:

Renewables are our future.

Renewable are not a seamless and fungible replicant for fossil fuels.

Renewables do not replace the petrochemical uses of crude oil.

Renewables do not replace the specialized uses of natural gas in industry or food production.

Renewables will be our future by design and not by desire.

But they are the default choice for our furture power needs as ALL fossil fuels and nuclear energy source will be depleted in the near future.

The more realistic we are with our evaluation of the conversion to renewable energy, the less deaths will occur from fantasizing about the improbable future that the intellectuals, cornucopians and political spin doctors have dreamed up..

Book and DVD list. All available from your local library.

Beyond Oil: the view from Hubbert's Peak
by Deffeyes, Kenneth S.

The Coming Economic Collapse - how you can thrive when oil costs $200 a barrel
by Leeb, Stephen

A Crude Awakening - the oil crash
Lava Productions AG, Switzerland DVD

The End of Suburbia - oil depletion and the collapse of the American dream
by Greene, Gregory DVD

Fed Up

High Noon for Natural Gas: the new energy crisis
by Darley, Julian

The Long Emergency: surviving the converging catastrophes of the twenty-first century
by Kunstler, James Howard

Oil Apocalypse
History channel DVD

Peak Oil Survival: preparation for life after gridcrash
by McBay, Aric

Powerdown: options and actions for a post-carbon world
by Heinberg, Richard

Resource Wars: the new landscape of global conflict
by Klare, Michael T

A Thousand Barrels a Second: the coming oil break point and the challenges facing an energy dependent world
by Tertzakian, Peter

Twilight in the Desert: the coming Saudi oil shock and the world economy
by Simmons, Matthew R.
Well written book examining 12 of the key Saudi oil fields.

Who Killed the Electric Car?
Sony Pictures Classics release

Zoom:the global race to fuel the car of the future
by Iain Carson and Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 11:35AM
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Allenwrench... Keep in mind that solar photo-voltaic is a proven sysyem..long lasting, powerful equipment that can already deliver as much power as you want to spend for. This is something we won't run out of but is still way too costly. The two factors approaching us is that one, either the cost of the equipment will drop considerably soon (see or two, the price of other energy sources will get so high that solar becomes 'affordable'. The only difference between these scenarios is the lifestyle we end up with. My more immediate concern is with the weather now approaching winter and fuel oil and gas having spiked up so much since my original post, how will many in the colder parts of the US survive the winter? The immediate effect will be even less discretionary money left over to help the economy recover with so much being drained from pockets just to stay warm.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2008 at 5:07AM
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I'm glad you came out of your bunker long enough to enlighten us. I think this is my favorite:

8) Without energy our country is open for takeover ... no transport on the ground or in the air. Luckily we will still have nuclear powered submarines and aircraft carriers as long as the uranium holds out. But the jets on the flattop all use jet fuel. All the supplies for those subs and carriers petroleum dependent. Will our military be as successful as it is today when it is all electric?

Who exactly will be over taking us? Some foreigners in sailboats or will it be the Russians on horseback across the bering strait? If we don't have oil or fossil fuels no one else will either. Assuming we forgot all of the other methods of producing liquid fuels.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2008 at 4:50PM
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