27 March 2006

Electricity Billing

The base rate for electricity in British Columbia is C$0.06/kWh versus C$0.085/kWh in Alberta. They may not seem like a big difference, and it isn't. However, my monthly bill is over twice as high due to fixed charges related to administration and transmission charges. If I include the various transmission and administration charges the numbers are more like C$0.075/kWh for BC versus C$0.175/kWh for Alberta. While the official average cost for residential electricity in the USA is US$0.0942/kWh I have seen some anecdotal evidence that the coal producers play the same games in the Eastern US.

This is in my mind's eye a terrible way to allow utilities to operate. If you want to encourage conservation you should not be front loading a bill with fixed charges because the marginal cost of excess consumption becomes so much lower. Only about 45 % of my bill is electricity... Now, I am not a big user -- I average about 7-8 kWh/day of consumption -- so this billing feature seems highly regressive. If any government was serious about encouraging conservation of electricity the logical place to start is by eliminating the fixed charges. Utilities should be forced to makeup the shortfall by raising their kWh rates. While the average consumer would see no net change to their bill, it would immediately become more attractive to invest in a new refrigerator or compact fluorescent lights.

Hiding the cost of electricity behind an Administration Charge, Fixed Service Charge, Delivery Consumption Charge, and Local Access Fee doesn't benefit either the consumer or the environment.

It is of course pretty embarrassing for coal to be outperformed by such a wide margin by renewable hydroelectric power. Here, I have to pay almost three times more for dirty, greenhouse gas producing power. Worse then that, particulate emission in regions where there's surface snow appears to be yet another positive feedback mechanism to reduce albedo and increase global warming. I am not purchasing power from a modern integrated-gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plant with sequesterization. These are largely 30 year old steam plants without even modern sulfur scrubbers. From an environmental economics point of view, I'm getting a raw deal. I am personally becoming highly suspect of the ability of truly clean coal solutions (i.e. with sequesterization) to compete with nuclear, wind, and hydroelectric power. My impression at this point is that clean coal lies approximately even with concentrated solar from the US Southwest.

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