Sustainable WNC

The Gateway to Sustainability in Western North Carolina

Archive for June, 2007

Cheap Energy is not the answer for us or Progress Energy

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

Progress Energy’s Community Energy Advisory Committee (CEAC) held its first meeting this past week. Business as usual led them down the path to community rejection on their Woodfin proposal, and they have come back to the community with a bold initiative that has the potential to break new ground.

PE’s presentations from this first meeting are available to the public online on the CEAC web link: www.progress-energy.com/aboutenergy/wnc.asp, as is information about the upcoming monthly meetings. The public is invited to these meetings and can give verbal input at the upcoming meetings or by email at wnc@pgnmail.com.

Two things about the first meeting captured my attention. The first was the statement by Lloyd Yates, Senior VP for Energy Delivery. He wondered “How do we incent people to use less electricity when it is so cheap?” If we can unpack, examine, and find answers to that question, we will be well on our way to helping solve not only our regional energy problem, but also be able to begin to tackle global warming in a reasonable and realistic fashion.

Cheap energy, as engineered by governments and transnational energy (whether oil, gas, coal, or nuclear) and transportation businesses, has basically discounted the future by keeping energy prices artificially low. Cheap energy and its consequent consumerist culture have caused rapidly accelerating global warming and ecological devastation. If we continue our addiction to cheap energy we will be stealing the safety, security, and health of our children’s future. Keeping energy costs artificially low is essentially both stupid and immoral economic and political policy.

The CEAC “charter” as formulated by PE is basically about finding “management” solutions to help them meet their obligations to provide adequate and reliable energy. I trust the Committee will have the wisdom to enlarge the dialogue to include the challenge that Mr. Yates posed. Hopefully CEAC will have the courage to address cheap energy issues and convince PE that it is in their interests to help rethink Utility Commission regulations and to lead legislative reform when necessary.

The second item that interested me was the selection of JoAnne Stafford to “facilitate” the meetings. Ms. Stafford has many credentials, including 11 years of service on the NC Utilities Commission. Although she claimed that CEAC itself was commissioned to fashion their agenda, she seemed to bully some of the Commission members who questioned whether or not the membership of the panel itself was adequate to their mission.

Ms. Stafford’s long ties to the Utilities Commission and the public perception that she favors the agenda of the Utilities themselves may make her work as facilitator very difficult. I think that CEAC would be better served to have her as an expert witness when they examine policy, regulations, and legislation that may serve its recommendations to PE.

There are at least two substitutes that I see as better neutral, third party facilitators for this process. The first is Steve Cochran whose credentials are listed in his blog on this page. The second would be Doug Orr, past president of Warren-Wilson College, who lead the College to its position of leadership in sustainability in higher education.

The next meeting of CEAC is Friday, July 20, 8:30-11:30 a.m., Location TBA.
Stay tuned.

Citizen Democracy & Progress Energy

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Much has transpired since our Open Letter to Progress Energy (PE) was published on May 29th.

 PE announced a Citizens Energy Advisory Committee (CEEC) just 2 days later. Furthermore,  the ad hoc group of citizens and grass roots organizations who were instrumental in defeating PE’s proposed Woodfin oil-fired power plant formed a parallel committee called Sustainable Energy Council of Western North Carolina (SEC of WNC). To learn more about SEC of WNC log onto sustainablewnc.org/cbetf.php. More info and a website will be coming soon

PE’s CEAC has 18 members from the community, 5 who have “sustainability” credentials and come from an environmental perspective. The rest of the membership is conspicuously absent expertise from the medical community, the educational institutions, and the faith/religious community. It boggles my imagination how PE would not have included a representative from Warren-Wilson College, a national leader in sustainability or Dee Eggers, PhD. from UNCA, who serves on the State Legislative Commission on Climate Change. Likewise, we have Clay Ballantine, M.D. in our community, a national expert on the relationship between energy production and health whose expertise should be vital to CEAC’s work.

Hopefully when CEAC meets for the first time on June 20 their membership will address these fundamental inadequacies.

The Mission Statement of CEAC states that it “has been created to facilitate two-way communication, understanding and advice on the development of long-term strategies to meet the growing energy demands of the region and to promote community understanding of, and support for, a balanced approach to meeting those demands.

I beleive the community already understands the need for a balanced approach. PE generates or buys over 95% of its electricity from non-renewable sources that are either polluting, contributing to global warming, or are fundamentally unsafe. CEAC should hold PE to a “balanced approach. 

But our community would be better served if CEAC enlarged it’s mission to incorporate the fundamental idea that we cannot just allow demand to grow, but must take aggressive public policy inititatives to reduce demand even with a growing population.
The fundamental fact of rapidly accelerating climate change and ecological devastation should motivate us to evolve into a new way of thinking about our way of living.
Here are two principles of a more comprehensive and life enhancing way of thinking that I would ask CEAC to adopt.

WE MUST HOLD PROGRESS ENERGY TO ACT ON BEHALF OF THE GOOD OF THE WHOLE 

Section 2 of the NC State Constitution states “…all political power is vested in and derived from the people; all government of right originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole (italics mine).” 

We must help CEAC re-contextualize the mission of PE. PE is obligated by our state constitution to work for the good of the whole and must learn to meet energy demand within the new framework of rapidly accelerating climate change and ecological degradation.  

We must not succumb to whatever the phrase “a balanced approach” means to a culture that is self-destructing. PE and most of us have become numb to the consequences of our desire to have and do whatever we wish. At some point we must realize that we are living in a dangerous time, and the consequences of our unwillingness to look deeply at the effects of our choices will kill what we love. 

Albert Einstein had the insight to recognize that “…the world that we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level at which we created them.” So far we have only given lip service to the idea of “the good of the whole.” Our task now as citizens is to engage our moral imagination to the task of going deeper into the meaning of that vision.

This brings me to the second principle. DO NO HARM Please let me explain.

“Do no harm” is another way of stating the golden rule. Don’t do unto others what you would not want them to do to you, and stated positively - do unto others as you would want them to do to you. Burning fossil fuel for energy is harmful. You know most of the reasons, so I won’t discuss them now.   I believe that we should not be afraid to articulate our message in “values” language. Burning fossil fuels for electric power is frankly killing and stealing, and we should not be participating in allowing policy that permits more of the same. This is not a “balanced approach”, it is self-destruction.If we can hold CEAC to these guiding principles then PE will understand that citizen democracy demands a safe, healthy, and sustainable energy future for WNC.