Are Fossil Fuels Morally Praiseworthy?

smokestacks
(Wikipedia)

Alex Epstein, the president and founder of a for-profit think-tank called the Center for Industrial Progress, claims he’s seeking to bring about a “new industrial revolution.” The manifesto on his organization’s website claims that, “For the last 40 years, so-called environmentalists have held back industrial progress around the world.”

Epstein also wrote a book titled the The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels wherein he claimed that all recent human progress is the result of the availability of cheap energy generated by fossil fuels. He backs up his theory with statistics showing how the quality of life for people across the globe has dramatically improved in the last couple of centuries – all because economies were powered by fossil fuels.

His clever argument is flawed, however, because he didn’t factor in all of the external costs created by the production of fossil fuel energy. They include respiratory and heart diseases, cancer, mercury contamination in lake waters,  acidification of the oceans, depletion and contamination of groundwater aquifers, mountaintop removals, coal miner deaths, crude oil spills, poisonous coal ash spills, destruction of wildlife habitat, and wars in the Middle East. And, of course, there are the enormous problems being caused by climate change.

The environmental regulations that are being imposed by the federal government on the companies that generate energy from fossil fuels are an attempt to internalize these costs by requiring these companies to include them in their retail energy prices, thereby making the prices more accurate and our energy markets more efficient. Therefore, complaints that enactment of these regulations would raise energy prices aren’t true, because these costs are already spread throughout the nation’s economy, instead of being internalized in fossil fuel energy prices – as they should be.

 

SRP Proposes Unfair Fee for Solar Customers

The Salt River Project (SRP) power district announced earlier this week that customers who want to add solar power panels to their homes will be charged an extra $50 per month starting next April if the SRP governing board approves the new fee.

SRP says they need to find a way to charge those customers who generate their own solar power for the costs of maintaining the district’s power grid, because they still use it even though they’re generating much of their own electricity. They claim their average solar customer receives about $51 in “unpaid services” each month. There’s no itemized expense, however, on the monthly bills of SRP’s residential customers for these “fixed” grid costs.

SRP’s proposal also includes a provision to increase the price of its electricity by 3.9%, which would increase the average residential customer’s bill by about $4.61 per month. They say this hike is necessary to pay to help pay for the more than $1 billion they’ve spent on a new natural-gas power plant and other grid upgrades.

So, SRP is claiming they can payoff a $1 billion dollar investment by raising the bills of their residential electric customers by less than $5 a month, but they need to charge new solar customers $50 per month to help maintain their electric grid. It doesn’t pass the smell test.

So what’s the real reason SRP is proposing the solar fee? If they are truly worried about fairness, why don’t they focus on the extra grid maintenance costs created by their large commercial customers? For example, do they charge mines, factories, car dealerships, and big-box retail stores the full cost of hooking them up to the power grid? And after they hook them up, do they charge them more for grid maintenance? If not, then residential utility customers are being forced to subsidize the electrical expenses of large commercial electricity users.

The future of SRP, and all utility monopolies, is certainly threatened by the growth of dispersed solar power generation. So SRP might just be trying to postpone their inevitable obsolescence as a monopoly. But there appears to be a lot more to it than that. The argument that solar customers should pay more to help maintain the electric grid was undoubtedly spawned from some conservative think tank because it’s the same argument that Arizona Public Service Company (APS) used earlier this year when it tried to impose a $50 to $100 fee upon its solar customers. Public outcry against the APS proposal prompted the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates public utilities, to reduce the fee to just $5 per month.

The fact that about $3.7 million in dark money was spent on advertising to try and get the APS solar fee approved provides a clue about who is really behind the anti-solar campaign. There isn’t much of a paper trail about where the money came from, but the old journalistic axiom of “follow the money” can still be applied. You just have to ask who benefits from the existing structure of the power industry so much that they’re willing to spend a lot of time and money to preserve it?

SRP customers who support the growth of dispersed solar power generation still have an opportunity to stop the implementation of the new fee. The SRP power district isn’t a public utility but a quasi-municipality so it isn’t regulated by the Arizona Corporation Commission. Instead, it’s run by a 14 member board that’s elected by its customers, and the board is accepting comments on the fee proposal and is expected to vote on it at their February 26 meeting.

Updates

On February 26, 2015, the SRP board voted to begin imposing an extra fee of about $50 per month on their customers who use solar panels.

Belief in Creationism is Irrational

god
Does God look like a hairy old white man?

I am bewildered when I hear people say they believe in a supreme God, the creator of all things, because they think the natural world is too complex to be the result of evolution.

Physicists tell us the size of the observable universe is about 46 billion light-years in radius. They estimate there are at least 100 to 200 billion galaxies in our universe, and maybe as many as 500 billion, each with hundreds of billions of stars. And they estimate there are 100 billion habitable Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone. The number of habitable planets in our entire universe is estimated to be 50 sextillion. (I don’t know how many a sextillion is, but it’s a lot.) Furthermore, some scientists have speculated that our universe is just one of a set of parallel universes, collectively called the multiverse.

Considering that the Earth is a tiny part of all of this, I find it very difficult to believe there’s a supreme god who looks, thinks or acts like a male human. For a supreme being to exist it would have to know everything that’s happening all of the time and continuously make an infinite number of simultaneous and interrelated decisions – which would amount to no real decisions at all. It would have to be everywhere all of the time, an integral part of everything and everyone, completely incorporated into all of existence, and couldn’t be a separate consciousness.

People who believe in creationism, also called intelligent design, don’t seem to understand how physics and evolution work. The natural world is a place of constant variation and change. The self-regulating invisible hand of “survival of the fittest” determines which life forms successfully reproduce. The life forms that exist today are the ones that have succeeded. Yes, some species are amazingly unique. But that’s because they had to evolve that way, or they wouldn’t exist.

The process of evolution applies to planetary ecosystems too. Our planet is hospitable to life, but most of the planets in the cosmos aren’t, and there’s no guarantee the environment on Earth will continue to be favorable. Human caused climate change threatens our continued existence, and there’s no god that will fix it for us.

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