When conserving power seems silly.
I live in what’s referred to as North Central Washington State, an area on the east side of the Cascade Mountains with a high desert like climate. If you’re familiar with Prescott or Flagstaff, Arizona, you know exactly what the weather here is like: four seasons with very little rain, some snow, and relatively mild summers and winters. Sure, summer temperatures can get over 100°F, but not often or for long. Likewise, winter temperatures can dip into single digits (F), but not often or long. It’s actually a lot like where I grew up in the New York Metro area, but with a lot less rain and a lot more sun.
(When I looked at that map, I realized that I live pretty darn close to the center of the state. So I Googled “What is the geographic center of Washington State?” and discovered I’m just eight or so miles away. So I really don’t know why they call this area North Central Washington when we’re really just Central Washington.)
Washington State power companies have huge investments in hydroelectric and wind generation projects. I live just 2 air miles from the Columbia River and there are two dams (Rock Island and Rocky Reach) with hydroelectric plants within 10 miles of me. Reach out another 20 or so miles and there are two more dams (Lake Chelan and Wanapum) with power plants and a huge wind/solar facility (Wild Horse).
It should come as no surprise that my area has one of the cheapest electricity rates in the country. (I’ve been told that Chelan County is actually the second cheapest in the country with Douglas County, across the river, being the cheapest (currently 2.33¢), but I haven’t confirmed that.) Our rates? 2.7¢ per kilowatt hour.
I see this on my monthly electric bill. While it’s true that we had a mild summer this year, my air conditioning did run. I heard it. I even cranked it up a few times. But you wouldn’t know it looking at my electric bill; it never topped $32 for any one month. Indeed, it was higher in the spring — and I still can’t figure out why. And it did get over $100 in February for January’s usage.
What’s your local electricity rate? You can look at your bill or even Google it. Or if you want a statewide average, here’s a handy table. The rate where I last lived, in Wickenburg, AZ, is currently 11.96¢/kilowatt hour — about 3.4 times what I’m paying now. And where I lived before that, in Harrington Park, NJ, the rate is currently 15.40¢/kilowatt hour — 4.7 times what I’m paying now. The national average is 12.73¢/kilowatt hour. These are all residential rates, of course. Often the rates are different for commercial and industrial users.
This is great for me — obviously. It’s wonderful to have such a low monthly electric bill. More money in my pocket, right?
The trouble is, it takes away most of my motivation to conserve power. After all, if letting the air conditioning or heat run 24/7 isn’t going to cost much more than making sure it’s turned off when I’m not around, why should I bother?
People might argue that it’s better for the environment to conserve power. Normally, I’d agree. But with most — if not all — of my power coming from renewable energy sources like hydro, wind, and solar, why conserve? These renewable energy sources are producing more than enough power for my area. And with loss in transmission, even sending the power I could save into the grid wouldn’t make a difference.
And yes, that’s the reason I didn’t cover the huge roof on my home with solar panels. There isn’t any point. I’d never save enough money to cover the cost of such an investment and there’s no need for the extra power generation in this area.
It’s also why if I bought a new car while I was living here, I’d definitely buy an electric car.
Now don’t get the idea that I waste energy. I’m the person who turns out the lights in rooms I’m not in, uses a programmable thermostat, and runs full loads in the dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer. All my appliances are “Energy Star Compliant” — as if you can get them any other way. I live in a small space and although all my appliances are electric, there’s just one person using them. But still! 2.7¢/kilowatt hour? It would be difficult to get the $200+ electric bills I saw every winter and summer in Arizona.
All this might make you wonder why the country isn’t investing in more renewable energy projects. Sure, not every river can support hydro projects. And yes, wind generators can be unsightly. And all large-scale energy projects impact the environment in one way or the other — ask me about the raptor surveys I did for wind projects in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.
But renewable energy resources can reduce or eliminate our dependence on dirty fuel, non-renewable energy like oil, natural gas, and coal. It can reduce the cost of energy, which would have a positive economic impact on people who struggle to pay utility bills. It would help encourage more people to buy electric vehicles, further reducing our use of fossil fuels and helping to clean our air.
This is a no-brainer, folks. Don’t let politicians pandering to the coal and oil industries tell you otherwise.
Now just don’t talk to me about my water bill. That’s a whole different story.