Green Electrons

Engineers tend to look askance at utility programs promising customers green energy, and they are right to be suspicious

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The New York Times's Kate Galbraith has a nice article this week, "Shorted," in which she talks about how electricity consumers can find themselves paying more to get green energy only to find that their monthly checks to the utility are financing ads trying to persuade even more customers to send checks to pay for ads to persuade  even more customers to send checks to finance ads to . . . Galbraith cites a report finding that overall in the United States, about a fifth of the money consumers put into green energy programs goes for advertiising and marketing. Some specific cases are much worse than average, of course. A Florida utility saw regulators disallow its program because it was so late delivering promised electrons from renewable sources.

Austin Energy, reports Galbraith, sells the most green power of any utility in the country.  Yet earlier this year the Texas utility was able to sell only 1 percent of a wind-power package it offered customers—an offer that would have cost the average taker an extra $58 per month!

That may be warning sign not just for green electron programs but for wind power too. Early indications are that the average global cost of new wind installations rose rather than fell last year, which could merely indicate excessively fast development, but also suggests that the best wind sites have been cherry-picked and that it will be harder now to deliver wind ever more cheaply. 

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