Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why doe-eyed liberals aren't responsible for that extra-looking renewable energy surcharge

My DTE Energy electric bill has a separately delineated $3 charge for “renewable energy plan surcharge.”

But, tellingly, there is no similar line item for coal purchases, coal plant operation, or capital costs of coal plants. Nor is there any breakout for nuclear power. None of this, despite the fact that coal and nuclear account for 85 percent of electricity generated in Michigan.

So why is there a separate line item explaining $3 worth of my bill, but no clues as to what the remaining $65.51 goes to?

When Michigan passed its renewable energy standard in 2008 (requiring utilities to provide 10 percent from clean energy sources by 2015), the utilities and their friends in the legislature wanted to make it perfectly clear  that the $3 increase was the fault of those idyllic tree huggers and their insistence on building windmills and solar panels and such. Renewable energy advocates lost their bid to simply fold the rate increase into the rest of the bill.

The renewable line item perpetuates the myth that power from nonpolluting sources is somehow an expensive, boutique hobby horse of weepy, doe-eyed, seitan eaters from Ann Arbor.

And it’s bull. When our rates go up because the price of coal rises, that increase is tucked right into the bill without any separate explanation.

In Michigan, we’ve made progress to a more sensible future. We’ve got a modest amount of renewable energy on the way, and have scuttled a number of ill-advised coal plants. But the Old Guard is not retreating without mining the bridges behind them. And the renewable energy surcharge is one of those land mines.

When it comes time to improve Michigan’s anemic renewable energy standard, it will be more difficult because of the visibility of the $3 surcharge. The response from ratepayers may well be just what the mine layers intended in 2008: “WTF? We’re already paying $3 extra on our bill!”


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