Questions About Charges for Energy

RECEIVED Thu., Sept. 10, 2009

Dear Editor,
    Re: “Twisting in the Wind” [News, Aug. 21]: It is unfair to charge GreenChoice customers both for clean energy they chose and polluting power they didn’t. This discriminates against making better energy choices. Yet it’s how Austin Energy does business right now.
    The city utility may eventually erase distinctions in billing, simply averaging all costs of generation together. But for now, as segregated options, most solar and wind energy alternatives cost more than most conventional generation sources. Therefore, averaging in “green choice” power with “no-choice” coal and nukes would increase general rates.
    So, the very same big corporations that got us into the nuke – then successfully lobbied for special discounts, refusing to pay for the nuke – now are whining their bills could go up if green power gets added into the general rate base.
    A temporary compromise that is both simple and fair suggests itself in the chart you show, a “Residential Bill Comparison” [“What You're Paying For,” News, Aug. 21].
    Rather than charge a residential customer both eight cents a kilowatt-hour for a “green choice” alternative and 7.1 cents for “no-choice” coal and nuke, instead, charge each customer only for the kind of power they want.
    Anyone who doesn’t want to pay for clean energy doesn’t have to. Their bills will not go up as a result. Also, while there’s still a premium charged for choosing green energy, it’s not so prohibitive that no one will buy it.
    Some would still argue that solar and wind requires backup generation and therefore green choice customers should pay for conventional power too. But with the actual cost assignment so debatable, as outlined in your article, it makes sense to do a simple split in billing between “green” and nongreen.
    This would be sufficient to reflect the real cost differences, without unnecessarily limiting or stifling the growth of alternatives.
Steve Beers
   [Associate News Editor Nora Ankrum responds: This reader may be misreading the chart to mean that GreenChoice subscribers pay both the fuel and energy charges on top of the GreenChoice charge. While GreenChoicers do pay the energy charge (which does cover some costs of nonrenewables, hence the debate about whether green customers pay for too much brown power), they do not pay the fuel charge. Also of note: The GreenChoice Batch 6 charge is no longer 8 cents; on Aug. 20, City Council approved AustinEnergy's proposal to reduce the rate to 5.7 cents.]
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