Think gas prices are high? Electricity is next

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Courtesy of Energy Efficiency Markets LLC

Today’s interest in energy efficiency may be nothing compared to tomorrow’s, if power prices rise as much as expected. One of the biggest price drivers, at this point, appears to be greenhouse gas restrictions, which Congress is expected to enact. It’s not clear yet exactly what the rules will be. But a federal analysis of a leading proposal shows electricity prices rising 5% to 27% by 2020 and as much as 64% by 2030.

And greenhouse gas restrictions are only one factor pushing up electricity prices. Industry insiders cite additional pressure from rising fuel costs, higher component costs, and new transmission investments. And then there is demand for power. Many of us think the US finished its electrification when the country finally connected all of rural America to the grid during the 1950s

But in some sense, it appears that was only the beginning of electrification. We did not anticipate the kind of second round, now occurring, as many everyday tools become electricity-driven, most notably the pen and paper’s transformation into the computer. Another major step in electrification is likely as the plug-in hybrid car becomes available to consumers in just two years.

By 2030, these cars – which we fuel by plugging into a typical household electrical outlet – are expected to make up 30% of car sales, according to the Electric Power Research Institute. Computers, plug-in cars, and other electric devices will boost our electricity needs dramatically. The US Energy Information Administration, often conservative in its forecasts, expects demand for electricity to grow 40% by 2030. To meet that need, the US must construct 250 to 500 new power plants – and power plants are not cheap. The EIA estimates the cost will be $412 billion.

This week the Long Island Power Authority said it plans to offer customers $924 million in efficiency products and services over the next 10 years. It is a lot of money, but cheaper, says LIPA, than building new power plants. Customers will pay about $40 per year to cover the cost. But they can recoup the charge – and more – by taking advantage of efficiency products offered through the program. A typical residential customer can recoup the money in a few months and save $90 annually on electricity costs by replacing six incandescent bulbs with compact florescent bulbs, tuning up a household air conditioner and sealing ducts, according to LIPA. Because of such savings, hardly a week goes by now without a governor, mayor or utility in the US announcing a new efficiency goal. They are bracing for higher electricity prices and looking to energy efficiency as the only sure-fire, short-term way to ease consumer costs.

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