In a guest column in today's Palladium-Item, Richmond Power and Light missed an opportunity to engage in a meaningful discussion about the future of energy and power generation in our region. Instead, General Manager James French took the unfortunate approach of appealing to ratepayer fears about increased energy costs or drastic lifestyle changes, and the politicization of U.S. energy policy.
If President Obama’s plan is enacted, every flick of a light switch, every running of an air conditioner and every spin of your dryer will cost you more and at the expense of manufacturing jobs in the United States. Consumers will be faced with either paying more for their bill or doing without several of their everyday conveniences.
Scientific, economic and environmental data all point clearly to the ways in which coal-based power generation is not sustainable, and perhaps more importantly, the public health and environmental risks that it increasingly poses. As the Obama administration and many other public and private organizations try to work toward policies and practices that are sustainable and practical, it's important to make sure we're talking about the real facts and options in front of us, and to make sure the public is educated about those along the way.
To suggest that we can side-step meaningful efforts to regulate and reduce carbon emissions from coal power, keep depending on coal without substantial efforts to move to other forms of energy AND imply that power users should have no increase in cost or change in lifestyle does a disservice to our community. Other cities in the midwest are having hard conversations about the wisdom of their continued investment in coal - some by choice, some because they are in crisis - but at least they're having them.
This missed opportunity for RP&L is especially significant in Richmond because it's one of the first public statements we've heard from the utility since its future plans were called into question last year amid the sudden dismissal of the previous General Manager and the quiet scrapping of a once-celebrated strategy to turn would-be landfill waste into energy. French could have talked about RP&L's future facility and financial plans (the annual report on their website is from 2011), how it will use the employees it just renewed a 3-year contract with if we're not actively using the on-site generators to create power, or many other topics of importance to RP&L ratepayers like myself.
There are certainly debatable points about the federal and state-level approach to reducing carbon emissions and environmental damage. There are real challenges to resolve with the onerous costs of complying with those regulations. And there are far-reaching, complex questions that all of us must address about what health and environmental damage we're willing to be a part of causing (now and to future generations) in the name of keeping end-user energy costs down or maintaining our current lifestyle. The public deserves a meaningful discussion about these issues and more, and a municipally owned power utility is in a great position to be a leader in that conversation. I hope when we hear from its management and elected leaders in the future, we get more than scaremongering so we can move that conversation forward.