Energy is such an integral part of everything we do, it is difficult to
comprehend the full impact of using it. Indeed, it is difficult to
think of something that does not entail using energy. And, in a country
as wealthy and stable as the U.S., where, until recently, consumers
didn't have a choice about their energy supply, energy use has not been
high on the list of things people think about.
Mainstream discussion about energy use only seems to occur when some
major crisis develops. At these junctures, we hear a lot of talk about
the need for "energy independence" and for increased production. These
days we don't hear a lot of discussion about saving energy, which is
the fastest, cleanest and most inexpensive way to increase supply and
reduce costs. Once the crisis or incident cools, the intensity of the
discussion about how to best meet our energy needs fades, until the
next crisis occurs.
In the meantime, a great deal is happening in the energy sector, some of it good and some of it frightfully bad.
The most important development in the energy sector has been the
deregulation of the retail electricity generation industry. About half
of the 50 states have enacted legislation that will allow the price for
generation to be determined by the marketplace. Deregulation, or
restructuring, of the electricity industry has the potential to either,
change the way we use energy for the better, or continue down the path
toward environmental degradation and continued dependence on foreign
energy sources. While new technologies are becoming competitive,
powerful forces, with the support of the current federal
administration, continue to promote unsafe, polluting and inefficient
For example, although no new nuclear plants are being ordered in the
U.S., the nuclear industry continues to try and ease the licensing
process for new plants. At the same time, U.S. nuclear companies, like
General Electric and Westinghouse, are pushing nuclear power in
developing countries, with U.S. taxpayer dollars to protect them should
their nuclear ventures fail.
In the U.S., deregulation has speeded up the process of making
customers pay for massive utility investments, essentially nuclear
plant construction cost overruns. As a result, while some utilities are
getting out of the power generating business, others are keeping old
nuclear plants running and using their huge "stranded cost" bailout to
buy more nuclear plants.
In a deregulated market, nuclear plants have to run at record
availability levels to be competitive, possibly jeopardizing safety.
There is still no safe way to store nuclear waste and probably never
will be. In addition, these plants regularly vent some of the deadliest
gases known to exist, and the process to make commercial grade nuclear
fuel contributes to global warming. Then there is decommissioning of
these big plants on the horizon, something no one knows how to do, or
what it will cost.
CITIZEN POWER, like many other safe energy organizations, has grave
concerns about the U.S. failing to learn the lessons from our
continuing nuclear debacle. We are convinced that the US can gain
energy independence and meet our energy needs without nuclear power or
fossile fuels. We subscribe to the Science for Democratic Action's Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for US Energy Policy available herein PDF format (5 MB).
Dirty coal plants, exempted from Clean Air Act requirements, continue to spew
record levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. About 40% of
U.S. air pollution comes from coal-powered plants. According to a
January 1998 study by the Clean Air Trust, "Air pollution from
coal-fired power plants in the Midwest has increased dramatically as
the U.S. electricity market has been opened to competition."
Studies show that total U.S. power sector Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) emissions could be reduced by 75-80%, beyond the
levels mandated by current law, if "grand fathered" coal plants were
required to meet Clean Air Act standards. Requiring these old coal
plants to come up to Clean Air Act standards is the first step in
moving away from using obsolete technologies to generate electricity.
As states deregulate, disclosure mechanisms should be instituted so
that customers know the environmental quality of the generation sources
they are considering to supply their power. Disclosure or labeling is
required for many basic products, like food, automobiles, and
appliances. It makes sense that the same kind of consumer friendly
labeling should accompany a product as important as energy.
Click here to find out about the environmental quality of your electricity supplier's product: POWERSCORECARD.
On the positive side, deregulation of the electricity generation
industry has opened the door, in a few locations, to customers being
able to choose renewable energy generation sources. While these
developments can happend without deregulation, they are often coupled
with states deregulating.
CITIZEN POWER is convinced that the efficient use of energy is the
best, immediately available way to decrease the use of unhealthy and
inefficient energy sources. The Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that
using energy efficiently can reduce our energy demand by 50-75%. For
example, under the new national energy efficiency standards soon to be
implemented, washing machine efficiency will be improved by 35%, saving
consumers about $25 billion and eliminating 77 MMT carbon over the next
To learn more about the tremendous impact using energy efficiently can have click here to go to CITIZEN POWER'S Energy Efficiency
Powerful influences, like the coal and nuclear industry, present a
formidable challenge to getting government regulators to institute
innovative energy policies. If those resistant to changing the way we
use energy have their way, the economic and environmental cost of
continued use of outdated technologies will be devastating. For
example, some energy analysts predict that, if current trends continue,
the U.S. will be dependent on imports for virtually 100% of its oil in
just 15 years.
Despite these powerful influences, many excellent organizations are
working toward a safe, healthy and efficient energy future. CITIZEN
POWER is proud to be part of this national effort, and as you can see
in our Education and Advocacy section CITIZEN POWER has had remarkable success in a relatively short time.
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