Electricity Prices and the New Battleground for Renewables
by Shannon Anderson
Prices have been rising steadily on electricity, to the tune of 4% on rates over the past decade, and with the wages stagnating during a period of costs of housing, medical care, and food increasing, these essential expenses pose a financial crisis for many households. The poor already pay more than their fair share in electricity costs, and changes in utility pricing such as increasing fixed charges (the amount you pay on your bill no matter how much power you use), mean even more of a burden on low-income and energy efficient customers, who often use the least power.
But what about renewable energy sources? Can they help lower costs for electricity customers in the future?
Solar and wind energy are saving many folks money already, but their potential to help stabilize energy costs going forward is huge. Naturally, all new infrastructure requires investment and renewables are no exception. But once solar and wind are operational, their fuel source is essentially, free.
While costs for solar and wind have dropped, solar more than 70% over the last 8 years, the price of coal and gas has fluctuated widely. Natural gas, the fuel many utilities are banking on for future energy production has been cheap lately, but prices depend an a bevy of international sales agreements, extraction costs remaining low, pipelines remaining active, and sources plentiful. That's a lot of uncertainty for the future.
While utilities confront flatlining demand on electricity, how will they keep making revenue? All over Indiana, our electric utilities are trying to raise rates on their customers. It is of critical importance to those who want to see our power derived from sources that fight climate change and improve our health to stay focused on these somewhat obscure, often tedious, rate cases. Our future energy is at stake. It's time that utilities know their consumers won't keep paying more without proof that the investments are going to help *lower* costs, especially for low income households and energy efficient customers.
Their claims that only coal and gas can do this just don't hold up to scrutiny.
Indianapolis Power and Light (IPL) proposed a rate increase in December that would nor only raise their monthly fixed charge substantially, but also their kW/h charge, the "rate" for the energy you buy. What is IPL is doing with this increase in revenue? Building a fracked-gas power plant that was not needed and doubling down on a super-polluter, the 51-year-old Petersburg coal plant.
Vectren plans to build a 889-MW gas plant, a 50-MW solar farm, while continuing to pour money into their 265-MW coal plant.
Indiana Michigan Power recently raised rates, settling for a smaller increase than they wanted, $96.8 million instead of $263 million. Customers in NE Indiana spoke out and I&M added programs for low-income customers too.
NIPSCO in NW Indiana is requesting $117.9 million a year increases (comment period now closed).
And it's worth pointing out that all of these increased burdens on customers come at time when these corporations are seeing a significant tax cut and CEOs like Duke Energy's CEO are taking pay increases ($21 million last year).
What can renewable advocates do?
Contact your Office of the Utility Consumer Councilor (OUCC) who represents you to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC). Contact your utility. Demand better. Most people don't want to think too much about how electricity rates are decided, but these battlegrounds are critical to getting our energy future right.
**IPL customers, reference Cause No. 45029**
Indiana OUCC, 115 W Washington St, Suite 1500 South, Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: 888-441-2494 Fax: 317-232-5923