Montpelier, it often seems, is obsessed by power. The political variety, of course; it being tautological to say that the political class cares about political power. But lately, it seems to have become equally obsessed by the kind of power the runs everything from ski lifts to Cuisinarts. That is to say … electricity.
Now electricity is essential to life as we now live it and so it should come as no surprise that those whose game is politics would desire to get control over it. They do not like for much of anything in life to exist very far beyond their control and the more important and fundamental something is, the more they want to get their hands on it. We’ve heard, these last few days about a legislative “Right to Die” initiative and that says a lot about the political class and its meager sense of its own limits.
If your death is open for intrusions from the political class, then it certainly isn’t going to be shy about getting involved in the generation, transmission, pricing, and taxing of electricity. And during this legislative session, it is a matter of all of the above.
Electricity, of course, isn’t something we go out and buy for the sake of mere ownership. We do not desire it for itself but for the many, many things it enables us to do. In businesses and in our individual lives.
So it would seem that Montpelier’s first concern when it comes to electricity would be to make it available and affordable. On the theory that the more there is, and the cheaper it is, the more we can do and the more productive we can become. If we are buying and using a lot of electricity, then we are doing a lot of things. We are being productive, as individuals and as businesses.
Well, not so fast there, old Hoss. In Montpelier, they have a different view.
And, according to that view, cheap electricity is not necessarily desirable electricity, even if one kilowatt is just as good as another at running your computer, your Cuisinart, or the CNC lathe in your furniture making business. To you, of course, it is all just plain vanilla electricity. And the good news, if you hold to this view, is that it is cheap and getting cheaper.
A recent government report that claims to be good news about inflation shows only food and energy costs going up. That is to say, the things everyone has to buy are getting more expensive but somehow, the government sees that as not especially relevant.
But I digress.
Within in the report about energy there is this piece of unqualified good news – electricity is getting cheaper. It is things like the price of gasoline that are driving overall energy costs higher.
Electricity is getting cheaper because the price of natural gas is lower than it has been in years as more and more of it becomes available. This has all the appearances of a long-term trend. We are, it seems, entering an era of electricity that is not merely affordable but actually cheap.
And how has Montpelier reacted to this?
By working hard to find ways to make the electricity Vermonters buy and consume more expensive. It does this through, among other means, imposing on the utilities something called a “renewable energy portfolio,” which amounts to a mandate to buy electricity that is generated by wind, solar, and other renewable means at very high prices. In some cases, ten times higher and more, than what gas-generated power sells for. The utilities will, of course, pass the costs on to the ratepayers.
The metaphysical argument for doing this is that it will help save the planet. This is absurd. Vermont could cease to exist as human habitat and there would be no signifigant decline in the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.
Bernie Sanders and others argue that Vermont would be setting an example and leading the way and so forth. Which is also absurd and one hopes they realize it.
Meanwhile, Montpelier and the utilities continue to promote energy efficiency. It is good thing, according to this view, for Vermonters to use less electricity. To conserve.
To which, one asks, “Why? So that we may be less productive?”
That is the only possible answer since, as we’ve seen, it can’t be because conservation saves money. Montpelier has already demonstrated that it is not merely indifferent to less expensively generated electricity but actively hostile to it. When it comes to electricity, Montpelier wants you to pay more than market price.
The political class, it seems, knows what is good for you (and the planet) and will make sure you get it.