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Jigar Shah

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A Father's Lesson In Energy Dependence

Posted: 07/12/2012 5:33 pm

I just read a Wall Street Journal opinion entitled, "When the Moore Family Lost Power," written by Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Stephen Moore.

In it, Moore points out: "Green groups, for example, have declared war on coal, which still produces about 40 percent of our electricity. The Obama administration is listening and slamming the brakes on coal production."

Further he points to a war on natural gas as he wrote: "... the Sierra Club is vowing to shut down natural gas too. Just last week North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed a fracking bill in the Tar Heel State (overridden on Tuesday thanks only to a state legislator's mistaken vote). She says she's protecting drinking water, but as we've discovered in Virginia, when you lose electricity you often lose access to potable water."

He fails to mention that for the first time, natural gas now provides an equal amount of power in this country to coal -- down to 34 percent of our electricity now and heading lower due to its high costs.

Of course, he wrote this while teaching his children firsthand what it must be like to live without electricity as generations before us did.

As he sat there powerless (literally), with his three children in sweltering heat under candlelight, he wrote that he explained to them that there was a bright side: "Think how much we've reduced our carbon footprint! Consider it a life lesson in what it means to live green."

Perhaps when thinking about living green, Mr. Moore could have also explained to his children that there are more than a billion people on the planet with no electricity. They are in places like Africa where there is no grid.

And, in fact, the way that many disconnected from the grid do get electricity is through solar power.

Plus, there are many that work to get true energy independence and generate their own electricity, many through solar/wind power. In fact, in some neighborhoods in D.C. during the power outage, generators were loudly humming away creating more than air pollution, but noise pollution as well.

But, I think the sad thing is that Mr. Moore blew the chance to teach his kids about energy independence. That includes independence from unnecessary power outages stemming from an over-reliance on central generation transported through overhead power lines from disrespectful companies like PEPCO. Instead, he proved that he learned little from the deregulation efforts of Presidents Carter and Reagan that reinforce individual empowerment by eliminating monopoly power.

A recent Harvard-Yale study conducted by Harvard's Joseph Aldy and Yale's Matthew Kotchen and Anthony Leiserowitz -- found that, on the whole, Americans were willing to endure a 13 percent increase in the price of electricity from more reliable and cleaner sources.

The underlying question is what is the motivation? I attended Fortune's Brainstorm Green 2011 where their shared data that showed that 8 percent of Americans are green enough to pay more for environmentally-friendly electricity on their own. Yet, 21 percent of Americans hate authority and are willing to pay whatever it takes to free themselves from the tyranny of monopolies and unreliable central power generation. So, it seems that in the tradition of American independence, freedom reigns. This is the stuff that Sarah Palin and Rick Perry are made of -- the underlying desire for independence especially from a monopoly electric utility.

As a point of disclosure, I am for energy independence. You can read about it here. I am also for natural gas as part of the solution. I also founded the largest solar services company in the world, SunEdison.

However, I am against ignorance and teaching it to your own children. Perhaps he and his kids need an educational trip to Africa. I can recommend some four-star resorts that used to run on distributed diesel generators until they found out that running on distributed renewable energy was cheaper.

 
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