Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I will take as my departure point the following rather depressing chart from the US Energy Information Agency (EIA). It shows the rise in US electricity prices since 2001:
Figure 1. Increase in energy costs for the industrial, commercial, and residential sectors, along with the average, from the EIA. SOURCE
That is a 50% increase in electricity costs in about a decade, and as you can see, we’re getting shafted. Now, it may be that the advent of “SmartMeters” is responsible for the decoupling of the different types of rates in 2009. I say that because residential has continued to increase post 2009, while commercial and industrial have stayed about level. But that’s just a guess, and coupled or not, prices are way up.
I got to thinking about that, and about the difference in the price of electricity from state to state, as shown in below in Figure 2. I wondered how much of the state-to-state differences in prices was due to the different mixes of fuel.
So I went and got the data, and as usual, there are some surprises in the mix.
Figure 2. State by state electricity pricing, 2010. SOURCE
To understand the relationship of price to fuel mix, I used the data from the same source as Figure 1, the EIA (I downloaded “All Tables” from the top section of that link, which simplifies the process). They have individual tables which contain state-by-state information on the various fuel sources used to generate electricity. They divide these up as Coal, Petroleum Liquids, Petroleum Coke, Natural Gas, Other Gas, Nuclear, Hydroelectric Conventional, Other Renewable Sources, Hydroelectric Pumped Storage, and Other Sources. “Other Renewable Sources” in turn is broken down into Wind, Biomass, Geothermal, and Solar.
So after looking at all of those various fuel sources for electric generation, it turns out that you can actually get a fairly good handle on the state-by-state price using just four of those variables, and that the rest of them make little difference to the result.
So what is the relationship between pricing and fuel? Here’s how Figure 3 was calculated.
You start with the average price, 13.25 cents per kWh. Then, you subtract five cents times the percentage of coal in the state’s mix.This drops the price by up to 4.6 cents, because as you might expect, coal plants are inexpensive. So if for example half your state’s power is from coal, on average that reduces the electricity price by 2.5 cents.
Next, you subtract five cents times the percentage of hydroelectric in the mix. Again, that reduces the average price, this time by up to 4.5 cents … hydro is cheap power as well.
So those two, coal and hydro, reduce the cost of electricity. Then you add three cents times the percentage of nuclear, which increases the price by up to 2.1 cents.
Finally, we have the other variable that increases the price, biofuel. Biofuel seems to be pretty deadly to a state’s electrical mix. It increases the cost of electricity by up to 5.3 cents per kWh, and is calculated by adding 34 cents times the percentage of biofuel.
The rest of the variables, wind and natural gas and all of the others, have only a very small effect on the state-by-state price. I suspect that the effect of natural gas in the mix will strengthen as the price drops and more plants are built … but for now, those are the variables that actually make a difference—coal and hydro drop the price, and nuclear and biomass increase the price.
Conclusions? … if you want cheap electricity, go with coal and hydro. And if you get desperate enough for renewables that you start messing with biomass and burning wood to make electricity? Well, you’re in deep trouble … and sadly, California, where I live, is a leader in that regard.
Which in part is why electrical prices here in California are through the roof. We have a draconian renewables target (33% renewables by 2020!!), and in a fit of chronic stupidity the lunatics in charge of the asylum decided NOT to count hydroelectric as a renewable. So we’re burning wood for electricity, and if the madness continues we’ll likely have to burn the furniture as well … and as a result of the 33% renewables target, plus the madness of denying that hydroelectric power is renewable, California ends up a “red state” in Figure 2, and my electric bill keeps rising.
That’s your electricity report on this fine morning, US Independence Day.
My best to everyone,
[UPDATE] In the comments someone asked about the correlation between a state’s voting habits and its energy prices. I actually had started in that direction, and prepared a graph, but then I decided to make the post about the fuel rather than about the politics. However, since someone asked … read’m and weep …
[UPDATE 2] USA Today sez …
WASHINGTON — As President Obama pushes an aggressive national climate-change plan, his administration’s non-profit advocacy arm is becoming active in clean-energy drives across the country.
Organizing for Action also has formed a partnership that steers its volunteers to purchase wind and solar power from a single company with ties to liberal groups.
“While we are doing all of this work to advance the president’s agenda in Congress, we also want to do everything we can locally to help switch to clean energy,” said Ivan Frishberg, Organizing for Action’s climate-change manager.
Organizing for Action, for instance, will recommend that its volunteers and activists who want to purchase renewable energy for their homes and businesses consider signing up with Ethical Electric, a firm that currently sells wind power in four Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia and bills itself as a socially responsible energy supplier. It also has licenses that will allow it to expand to New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and Ohio.
Meredith McGehee, who examines government ethics at the Campaign Legal Center watchdog group, questions whether it’s appropriate for an organization so closely linked to a sitting president to develop ties with one business.
“You can say that developing clean energy is great, but do competitors feel the weight of the presidency being used to undermine their business model?” she said. “It raises questions about the ethical propriety of the use of the president’s bully pulpit.”
Putting all the money in your friends’ pockets raises ethical questions? Who knew?
So … as usual, the friends of Obama make bank, and everyone else says “How come the US government is favoring the President’s friends?”