August 7, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Green Tea Anyone?

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green-teaWhen most people I know think of the tea party, they think of phrases like “smaller government” and “less taxes” (and yes, some of my friends on the left refer to these as if they were bad things).  “Solar power” isn’t typically the first thing that comes to mind.  Likewise, when people think of the “green” movement, they typically think of “clean energy” or “subsidies” or “tax credits”.  What began as unlikely allies in an initial effort by these various groups to defeat the proposed T-SPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) has evolved into an unlikely set of allies who are working together to find areas of mutual agreement on energy policy.

I happened to be at the launch party for this new “Green Tea Coalition” last night that featured Debbie Dooley (known for her involvement with the Tea Party Patriots) and Seth Gunning (known for his involvement with the Sierra Club) among others.  This is not to say that the Tea Party Patriots and the Sierra Club have officially combined forces.  Neither organization officially is involved or takes an official stance on this new movement.  This Green Tea Coalition is simply the beginning of an effort to organize and find areas of mutual agreement by a number of individuals within all parts of the political spectrum.

However, even though the movement has only just begun, it’s already drawn some heavy criticism from those on the left and right filled with stereotypes about brainwashing and that somehow conservatives are being converted into tree hugging liberals.  So today I want to set the record straight.

There seems to be a perception by some on the left that those on the right don’t care about the environment.  I believe this describes very few people on the right.  Yes, there are certainly those out there who at least put on an outward appearance that they don’t care about the environment, but most of us on the right do care.  We like clean air.  We want to know that our drinking water is clean and not going to make us sick.  We want to make sure that the planet we leave behind for our kids or our grandkids is going to allow them to live long and prosper.  We may have different ideas of the paths to take to get to these end goals, but the goals are relatively the same.

As well, there is a perception by some on the right that those on the left are whacko tree huggers that want to tax coal and other fossil fuels to the point that they’re unaffordable while heavily subsidizing things like solar and wind.  And those perceptions are accurate to varying degrees depending on the individual you talk to.  But here’s where having an open and honest conversation can be helpful.

See, here’s the thing… some of these “renewable energy” technologies have evolved to the point that they’re now able to compete with the fossil fuels if there were a level playing field.  Those on the right should be pushing for free markets and less government intervention.  The government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers right?  So what if all subsidies were removed from all forms of energy production – moving more in the direction of that free market?  That’s not such a bad thing, right?  And do you think that those on the left would be opposed to such a non-partisan solution?

Last night when Debbie Dooley talked about the coalition pushing to remove all subsidies from all forms of energy and letting all types of energy compete on a level playing field, would it surprise you if I told you that even those that come from the left hand side of the political spectrum were clapping and nodding in approval?  It appears that we’ve found an area of mutual agreement there that we can all support.

For those of you on the right criticizing even talking to people on the left, I want to address this as well.  The right is known for being… perhaps more outwardly religious is the best way I can think of to describe it at the moment.  I want you to sit down and think about where the Bible and your pastor tell you that you should spread the word of Jesus.  Does it say to only share your faith with the other members of your congregation?  Or does it say to go out and tell the world?

If you want to dislike the various policies of the Democratic Party or the Republican Party or whatever other political party… then fine.  But realize that these people are also your neighbors.  You can be cordial and carry on conversations with them.  Who knows… after some lengthy conversations you may even find areas of agreement with them as well.  You may both like the same type of beer or pizza toppings.

As for me, I look forward to continuing the conversation of how we can encourage free markets and remove all forms of subsidies from all forms of energy production.  One of the things on my radar is the modification of the Territorial Electric Services Act of 1973 (the one my opponent this last election favored no changes to, as he believes that “Georgians aren’t ready for a choice”) that establishes the various service areas for the variety of electric monopolies we have in this state.  I also look forward to Americans for Prosperity (which we disagreed with during the recent IRP process) joining us in this effort as they too have been touting their of support of free markets and competition.  If any form of technology isn’t economically viable and feasible, then it will surely fail in the free market sans subsidy, right?

As for everyone else, I invite you to join The Green Tea Coalition on Facebook and join in the conversation as to how we can help shape energy policy in our state in the years to come.  You can find it at:  http://www.facebook.com/thegreenteacoalition

 

* This article also posted at http://westcobb.patch.com/groups/david-stapless-blog/p/green-tea-anyone

July 9, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Power To The People

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This coming Thursday, July 11th, the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) will vote on the pending Integrated Resource Plan (known as the IRP) that is currently before them.  An IRP is a plan presented by Georgia Power (the state’s only investor owned electric utility) that proposes a 20 year plan for how they will acquire and generate the electricity they sell to their customers.  It is reviewed every three years and has to be approved by the PSC, as Georgia Power is a regulated monopoly.

I’ve been listening to the hearings online and keeping tabs on the various opinions being espoused by a variety of groups and have been encouraged to write a few words of my own.  I like to consider myself a neutral party in these matters as I’m neither a customer nor stockholder of Georgia Power nor any other energy related company.  I’m a Greystone EMC customer / member and enjoy reasonable electric rates and reliable service.

But right now in Georgia, there is an on-going argument over whether our state should adopt more solar as part of our energy mix and if so, how to go about it.  One of the problems we see with this technology here has little to do with the solar technology itself and much to do with the bad name that Solyndra and a number of other solar companies have given the technology.  That leads me to question why those same people don’t hold the entire auto industry accountable for the actions of GM and Chrysler in regards to the government dollars they received?

As a free market fiscal conservative, I personally support eliminating all subsidies for all types of energy production.  Let them all stand on their own merits and let the best technology win.  If the winner is coal or nuclear or solar or wind or hydro, then so be it.  But each of those technologies (and others I haven’t mentioned) have their own set of issues.  Coal fired plants have to install expensive scrubbers to capture emissions (along with possible supply chain disruptions and water supply issues), the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day, the wind doesn’t blow 24 hours a day, and we have yet to resolve how we’re going to store the spent fuel from the nuclear reactors long term to name just some of the issues.

So when we consider the current IRP being presented by Georgia Power in front of the Public Service Commission we have to consider a number of factors: current electrical demand, future electrical demand (including possible changes due to either growth or decline of population / industry or decline in demand due to efficiency gains), and the costs and reliability of the various types of power production available to name a few.  So how do we balance the need for cheap, reliable, and clean electricity with these and other factors?  Most experts would say that a proper mix of various technologies is a smart way to ensure that the lights will continue to come on when you flip the switch and that your air conditioner will still be able to function on 98 degree summer afternoons when your roof is measuring temperatures well over 150 degrees.

According to the IRP, Georgia Power currently owns 149 generating units that provide approximately 17,400 megawatts (MW) of retail peak season generating capacity.  They are seeking to decommission a number of coal and oil fired power plants which make up just under 2,100 MW.  In the first 11 months of 2012, 42% of the electricity sold to customers was from coal, 18 percent nuclear, 4 percent hydroelectric, and 36 percent from natural gas and oil.  If my math skills serve me correctly, that means that zero percent (or at least a number that rounds down to zero) is from wind, solar, biomass, or any other form of generation.  However, they have filed a plan, called the Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative (GPASI or ASI), to purchase up to 210 MW of solar by the end of 2014.  So let’s run some quick numbers.

Assuming that our 17,400 number stays approximately the same by the time we take into account efficiency gains and the decommissioning of the coal and oil fired plants, as well as the new reactors at Plant Vogtle and the other Power Purchase Agreements, we would effectively see that 210 divided by 17,400 means Georgia Power is essentially asking for a cap of roughly 1.2 percent of their electrical generation coming from solar.  Now, remember – this is a 20 year plan.  Also remember that whole “proper mix” of different technologies I talked about above?  Is one percent a reasonable slice of the overall pie?

Now, there’s one group out there who has said that if the Commissioners require Georgia Power to add additional solar generating capacity over and above their proposed 210 MW (or purchase it from customer generators or other third party generators) that it effectively means Georgia then has what is known as a “Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)” and that our rates could go up as much as 40 percent in the next few years.  The NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) I believe defines RPS as a regulation that requires the increased production of energy from renewable energy sources.  So technically they’re right on the point of the RPS if the Commission asks for another 500 MW of solar generating capacity.  But where they’re wrong is where they’re saying that adding another 2 to 3 percent to our generating capacity coming from solar could raise rates by 40 percent.  I don’t think you have to be a math scholar to figure out the accuracy of those numbers.

The cost of solar has come down dramatically in the past few years due to a variety of factors, including great advancements in the solar technologies and production field.  I’ve asked this question publicly before and I’ll ask it again here for those that are “opposed to solar”.  If a company approaches the Commission and Georgia Power and says that 1 – they want to sell to Georgia Power electricity generated by means of solar at rates that are equivalent to other sources from which Georgia Power purchases electricity – and 2 – are willing to contractually guarantee to maintain those rates for the next 20 to 30 years (even though the cost to produce other sources of electricity are most likely going to increase according to the forecasts I’ve seen), why should we turn them away?  Nobody that I’ve seen is proposing that we immediately close down all of our other power plants and strictly rely on solar – that’s not a good idea either.

But it is completely reasonable to ensure that a government granted monopoly operates within parameters that ensures its customers receive reliable electricity at the lowest rates possible while having the least impact on the environment and our natural resources.  Until the Georgia General Assembly decides to modify the set of rules created by the Territorial Electric Service Act of 1973, it is the Public Service Commission’s job to protect Georgia’s ratepayers and taxpayers by regulating Georgia Power in whatever fashion necessary.

I’ll just leave you with some food for thought here.  Had the Georgia General Assembly enacted legislation that would have allowed third party power purchase agreements (which currently violate the aforementioned Territorial Electric Service Act), it is possible that none of this would have been an issue.  Solar wants to expand here, but government regulations are currently preventing it from doing so.  Let’s open up the market to competition and give them a chance – without putting ratepayer or taxpayer dollars at risk as is currently being done with the Plant Vogtle construction.  But that’s another topic for another day.

Also posted at: http://westcobb.patch.com/groups/david-stapless-blog/p/power-to-the-people_d76a2482

November 12, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Post Election Letter

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Dear Friends,

Now that I’ve had a bit of time to recover after the election, I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon the results and say thank you to each and every one of you who joined us in trying to oust a crony from one of Georgia’s most unknown elected offices.  I sincerely appreciate all of the hours everyone has put into this campaign.  I’d like to also thank my wonderful wife, Ashley, and all those at our farm for helping her out quite a bit more during my absence as I traveled around the state.  I couldn’t have run the campaign I did without her support.  I also couldn’t have done it without the help of a few key people – Daniel Adams, who essentially stepped up as campaign manager when it became apparent a friend of ours needed to spend time with his mother instead of working on a campaign, and Kelly Nguyen, my graphics and web designer.  It’s impossible to name everyone, but to all the other volunteers and especially to those who made financial contributions to my campaign… thank you.  We couldn’t have purchased the variety of ads we did around the state without your contributions.  Before I get into some analysis  of the race and some other commentary, which I’m assuming not everyone will be interested in, I’d like to wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving holidays.

For those of you who haven’t seen the results, I received 1,095,115 votes, or 34.17% of the total vote.  During the final days of the election I talked to a number of people who had already early voted a straight Republican ticket but that knew nothing about the office or the candidates for whom they had voted.  They simply assumed that the GOP had already vetted their candidates somehow and were very displeased to find out the facts about the person they had just voted for.  Unfortunately, once someone early votes, they can’t change their vote.  I’ve already had a number of people asking me if I’ll run for this seat again in six years.  Or if perhaps I’d be interested in the General Assembly, or even US Senate.  My answers are maybe and no.  I will not run for any office that would require me to spend a large amount of time in DC away from my family.  I also don’t particularly have any aspirations for the General Assembly either, for reasons I won’t go into here.  If I run for the Public Service Commission again, it will probably be under one of the two major parties, but only time will tell which one that will be or if I’ll even run again statewide.

In the meantime, since we’ve re-elected the status quo, I urge each and every one of you to keep tabs on what the Public Service Commission is doing.  It affects your electric rates, which are then reflected in every single thing we buy.  Sure, some of us can afford it.  But there are many people in this state who have to choose between keeping their house at a livable temperature, putting food on the table, or buying certain medicines critical to their survival.  These people can’t afford to pay the higher rates we are sure to see in the coming years.  Georgia Power consistently claims to have some of the lowest electric rates in the nation – yet they never mention that they also have some of the highest rates in the state.

As a libertarian reflecting upon the holiday season and the spirit of giving, I don’t believe that it’s the government’s job to take care of everyone, as that requires the government to take by force (taxation).  Instead, I prefer to give willingly to a variety of charities that I believe are most effective.  I hope each of you who are able to will also consider making a donation to whatever charitable organizations you see fit so that those who are unemployed, sick, homeless, or fit into any other category I’m not listing here… can have a more enjoyable holiday season as well.  I hope everyone has a very Happy Thanksgiving and whatever other holidays you may celebrate as we wrap up 2012.  I look forward to seeing what 2013 will bring.

Best Regards,

David A. Staples

© 2012 David Staples: Post Election Thoughts and Writings