Letter: Editor, the Gauntlet: electricity rules

By Roger L. Gagne

Editor, the Gauntlet,

This article [“‘Good’ advertising gone wrong,” Rinaldi Gulinao, Feb. 5] highlights a conundrum faced by most utility companies in North America: they are aware of the external social and environmental costs of generating electricity, yet how are they to tell customers to buy less of their product? And what incentive is there for them to do so? Thankfully, several states in the U.S. have decoupled the utility’s revenues from their sales volume and numerous other states are beginning to follow suit. Rather than build a new power plant, a utility can focus instead on harvesting wasted energy from their customers and still make a profit that makes it worthwhile for them to stay in business.

Along with their stated passion for conservation, Enmax is also doing the right thing in a few other ways. They’re building their newest generating plant close to Calgary, where the majority of their customers are, to avoid the need for long and inefficient transmission lines. For years, they’ve given the option of purchasing wind power and are now ramping up to lease solar panels to customers in the year 2010. And they are building the Calgary Downtown District Energy Centre, which will efficiently provide heat to several downtown buildings, eventually using waste heat from electrical generation facilities.

This is an exciting time to be looking at electricity. Germany has created over 200,000 jobs in renewable energy and increased their use of renewables from six per cent to 14.2 per cent, since the year 2000. At least one utility in the U.S. is beginning to take advantage of “smart grid” technology, by remotely managing their customer’s power demands. Does a massive beer refrigerator or large industrial pumps need to be running during peak hours? Generally not, so the utility lets them run during low-demand times when electricity is abundant and cheap, but cuts them out when the spot price of electricity jumps up. Tools like this also shoot holes in the argument that wind power can only fill a small portion of our energy requirements, only producing power while the wind blows. Using a variety of power management tools, Spain often provides over 20 per cent of their country’s electricity with wind; on one day last March, they reached 40.8 per cent.

Energy conservation, energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy can slow the pace of global warming, improve air quality, stabilize and secure our energy supply as well as our economy and provide long term jobs. With Alberta receiving far more wind and sun energy than Germany, we have no excuse for continuing with business as usual.

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