September 12, 2008
Experts Target Shocking Electricity Bills
By CRAIG D REBER
If the high price of gasoline isn't enough to startle Americans, guess what's happening to the cost of power?And energy experts say a crisis isn't coming; it's already here."We are in very challenging times, and Iowans are eager for solutions," said Brian Kading, executive vice president and general manager of the Iowa Association of Electric Co-ops.Kading and Glenn English, former U.S. congressman and chief executive officer of National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, are two of more than 600 officials from nearly 100 cooperative electric utilities in Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois meeting in Dubuque this week to address theenergy crisis facing the country. The event is a regional meeting of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.Iowa Association of Electric Cooperative officials point out that Iowans are girding for an expensive winter in energy costs. Theycite Iowa's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program reports that a record number of residential accounts are past due.Utility companies across the country are raising power prices significantly to pay for soaring fuel costs, invest in new plants and to overhaul an aging power grid. Nationwide, rising energy prices have driven up household utility bills nearly 30 percent over the past five years, the sharpest jump since the 1970s energy crisis. The price of coal has doubled since last year, and natural-gas prices are up nearly 50 percent.Organizers of this week's meeting urge the country's political leaders to fund development of new technologies that ensure affordable electricity while meeting climate change goals."That surplus capacity that has enabled us to have stable rates in the past 20 years is gone," English said. "We are unable to meet the additional demand with the capacity we have today. That has to beaddressed."Part of the solution is technology, English adds."We need it with regard to coal," he said. "How do we speed up the technology to bring coal fully back into the mix so we have a full complement of fuels?"English said nuclear power is a big part of the equation, long-term. The difficulty is the 10 years from the time for filing an application to the nuclear regulatory commission to the point when a nuclear power plant is on-line."We think that if we work with our elected officials, particularly on the federal level, that we can cut that time in half," English said. "We think we can bring nuclear power in and make it a big part of the solution."The problem with renewable energy, particularly wind, is location."Most of the wind is going to be in the Great Plains, where we have the smallest part of our population," English said. "So the question is how do you generate renewables in the Great Plains - for instance, Iowa, and move that power to where it needs to be used. We've got to have transmission. Government has to make that possible for us to have that siting, even more than the resources and the money. We have to have that ability to build transmission for renewable energy to move it out of Iowa to Chicago or to other major metropolitan areas."Kading said consumers play a role in the solution, urging them to purchase the most energy-efficient appliances possible and turn out lights when not in use.For more than a year, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association has been working to raise awareness in the policy community about capacity shortfalls and looming risks to electric reliability. Through the "Our Energy, Our Future - A Dialogue With America" campaign, the electric cooperatives are bringing the issue to the forefront."As far as that electric bill going up, the uncontrollables beyond us are issues we've got to have help from particularly our federal elected officials, and they are these issues of transmission, so we can use renewables," English said.
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