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Arizona Prop 127 and the Dentist

Amending the Arizona Constitution to Require Electricity Providers to Generate at Least 50% of their Annual Sales of Electricity from Renewable Energy Sources.

Despite my cynicism 640-02771702and shaky belief in our experiment in American democracy, I still take my responsibility of voting seriously. I truly don’t believe my voice is heard or that my vote amounts to a hill of beans, but I’m programmed to believe that if I don’t participate, I haven’t earned the right to enjoy the occasional benefits of freedom bestowed upon all of us. I guess it’s similar to the old exchange where I’m asked, “Do you believe in free will?”

My response … “Of course, what choice do I have?”

With this said, I diligently do my homework on the ballot issues upon which I’m allowed to vote. In an effort to learn how I felt about the matter of Prop 127, I have contacted representatives of organizations espousing both sides of the matter. I have found it difficult to get straight answers from either side, especially the “Vote No” people.

One information resource available to me is called “NextDoor.com”, a pseudo-social network composed of neighbors – thousands of them – in the area of Scottsdale in which I live. One neighbor began a thread on the site encouraging neighbors to oppose the proposition. I muddled through the dozens of responses, some caustic and snarky, some myopic, some humorous and some more thought provoking than others. Here are a couple of the take-aways from my efforts.

  • Many people drink the cool-aid. The “Vote No” contingent is largely fed by the big utility companies, APS in particular. Their motives seem to be one-percent altruism (possibly misguided) and ninety-nine-percent profit motive. I don’t believe for an instant that profit is necessarily bad, but when it comes by selling your soul to the Devil or peddling your daughter on the streets to the highest bidders, the profit-motive may run into a few moral barriers.

APS may not be taking the moral high road on this matter. They make no claims as foolish as to suggest renewable energy in of itself is bad. They just say your monthly electric bill will increase. Those supporting Prop 127 make the argument that utility bills will go down. In both cases, there seems to be some sleight-of-hand being employed to make the cases. Bills probably wouldn’t go up as much as APS claims and they probably wouldn’t go down as much as NRDC claims.

Either way, the discussion of utility rate hikes seems to have an air of red herring. If APS insists on presenting blatantly false, fear mongering arguments about cost increases, this seems to beg the question “Why is APS so vehemently opposed to Prop 127?” I can guarantee you that the president of APS doesn’t go to bed each night with a prayer about keeping my personal utility bills as low as possible. He may pray that his income continues to grow without bound. I’ve got a whole file of cancelled checks that pretty much proves he doesn’t give a damn about my personal budget.

As an experienced engineer, I will assume that APS opposes Prop 127 for two principal reasons, taxes and control. I suspect that investing in significant new infrastructure in the form of solar and/or wind generation equipment is a “capital expense” and that those expenditures must be depreciated over an extended time period. If they could be immediately “expensed”, the Corporation Commission would no doubt do what it normally does and allow them to roll the costs into the utility rates immediately. If the costs are to be depreciated over time, APS would have to wait to fleece the consumers longer. I’m sure the picture is a bit more complicated than presented here, but you get the gist of it.

It should strike you as contemptable that APS can spend millions promoting and peddling the anti-127 rhetoric and immediately force you to pay for it via such “expenses” being rolled into your monthly utility bill, but they fight investing in a cleaner environment because that can’t take those dollars out of your pocket by the handful; they still get them, they have to grab them a few dollars at a time.

The other issue is “control”. A constitutional requirement for a certain energy mix takes a little bit of the choice from them. Heaven forbid they don’t retain complete, unbridled control of their world.

So some people drink the cool-aid like it’s free. They listen to what APS says and take it as the gospel. After all, it must be true because many of those who support Prop 127 are tree-huggers or liberals or environmentalists or even Democrats. Some have even gone over the edge and drive a Prius. My God! What further proof do you need that APS is standing on the right side the fence? Drink up. It beats the hell out of thinking it through.

  • Many, if not most people, don’t look at the big picture even if it’s held right in front of their faces. I’m stunned at the number of people who look at the issue solely from the standpoint of the amount they believe their utility bills will increase. Let’s take the improbable worst case scenario as presented by APS and assume your monthly bill will increase $100 per month. There is more, much, much more to the picture. If you’re content with viewing a grossly over-simplified picture, here’s a quick way to not only save the $100 per month, but actually cut your bill out altogether – don’t pay your bill. There you go; how much better can you do than that? But they’ll cut off my electricity you say. Well of course they will, but that’ll be a month or two down the road. We can deal with that problem when it comes along.

By viewing the Prop 127 question as nothing more or less than an increase or decrease in your monthly electric bill, that’s precisely what you’re doing. You’re ignoring myriad other costs that you will have to pay, just not necessarily immediately. These costs are very real and the bill will be coming due. You can try not paying the bill, but you’d be better off letting APS turn off your power. If worse comes to worse, you can at least buy batteries and a flashlight. Escape from the other expenses that so many people ignore isn’t nearly so simple.

Fact: Health care costs increase with increased burning of fossil fuels. Fact: Even if you don’t personally end up with asthma or heart disease of any one of the countless other maladies, you’re still paying the bill. When some American citizen who can’t afford health insurance ends up in the hospital, guess who’s paying the bill. You are.  Fact: reducing fossil fuel consumption results in a cleaner environment. When air and water is polluted, everyone suffers as the economy suffers. The cost of clean-up has to be borne by someone. Take a look in the mirror if you’d like to see who gets that bill.

There are countless other expenses that legitimately need to be taken into account when looking at Prop 127. Life would surely be grand if it was about nothing more than your utility bill, but it’s not. Some of the expenses may have differing time horizons, but they WILL be paid. If you consider yourself fortunate in that maybe, just maybe, the bills won’t come due in your short lifetime, I’m sure your children and grandchildren will think highly of you for having the wisdom, vision and love to care about their future quality of life.

  • The power of rationalization is the irresistible force. Many of the anti-127 voices put forth the “argument” that Prop 127 won’t solve the problems of pollution, global climate change, etc. They’re absolutely correct. In truth, the overall impact may be miniscule in comparison to the overall challenge at hand.

However, it can’t be argued that one small, short step in the direction of a goal isn’t in fact far better than no step at all. If we do nothing at all, nothing will be done. In fact, it strikes me as sort like my view on casting my vote. I don’t really believe my voice is of any consequence, but if I don’t vote, I have no voice at all.

Prop 127 is much like going to the dentist. I have a legitimate phobia with dentists and all their tools of torture. Sometimes I feel like the choice of seeking dental care should only come when the pain is so excruciating as to overwhelm my fears. But with a little common sense, I come to the realization that line of reasoning is childish and foolish. If I keep putting it off, the pain would become intolerable and the cost of mitigation would become huge. How long do we want to suffer before we act? How much suffering can we endure tomorrow for a few fleeting moments of pleasure today?

Hey, it worked for Emperor Nero. Do you ever wonder what tune he was playing when Rome finally caught fire? Thanks to NextDoor.com, I’m voting Yes on Prop 127.

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2 Responses

  1. A good read, as always! This is one time I might not agree with you. While the end goal of 127 is something we should all get behind, where it loses me is by excluding nuclear from the renewable energy definition. If 127 goes ahead, chances are that APS will shutter Palo Verde nuclear station because the vast amount of energy it produces won’t count toward the 50% (or whatever the % is) that will need to come from renewables. I am no scientist or engineer, but we still can’t produce solar when the sun is down – and you can’t power a nuclear plant up/down every day, so there’s going to be a big gap in supply somewhere. I am voting NO because I think it’s the wrong way to get to the end goal.

    By the way, we know the guy who runs Palo Verde – and yes, it’s easy to think that we might be swayed by the obvious APS lobby, but his arguments are very compelling (as are yours!).

    Thanks, Harold

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  2. I fully understand your stance. I’m not thrilled with the way the proposition is written, structured or the fact that it had to be tied into a constitutional amendment. I’m not convinced Palo Verde will have to be shut down, but there are some “issues” of concern. What has compelled me support it is the argument that if we wait for the better solution, we may be waiting until the end of the world.

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