A Very Strange Article

There is a very strange article by the Charleston Daily Mail’s business reporter George Hohmann in today’s edition of the paper.  The story is more interesting for what it doesn’t say than for what it says.

The story, titled “Becoming More Energy Efficient,” starts out pretty well, but focuses on the need for consumers to be educated instead of targeting power company practices.  Hohmann then goes on to introduce Appalachian Power as the beneficient “offerer” of energy efficiency opportunities.  The next paragraph introduces Energy Efficient West Virginia’s (EEWV) Mike Harman and a description of  FirstEnergy’s efficiency proposals.  Nowhere in the story does reporter Hohmann give us the facts about how and why the power companies are offering energy efficiency programs.

In fact, both Appalachian Power and FirstEnergy’s WV subsidiaries were forced to provide efficiency assistance programs because EEWV and the WV Citizens’ Action Group intervened in the companies’ last two rate cases and convinced the WV PSC to order the power companies to start improving energy efficiency in our state.  The power companies did not “offer” these programs.  They were forced to, as Mike Harman accurately described it, make this “modest start” by citizen action, not their own initiative.

At the end of the energy efficiency segment of his story, Hohmann concludes with a prominent reference to the fact that energy efficiency programs will be paid for with rate increases, instead of providing the whole truth of the situation.  This truth is that the cost of energy efficiency programs to reduce the need for more electricity is often much less expensive than building new generating capacity.  This is especially true with WV electrical customers being held hostage by our state’s overdependence on expensive coal to produce our electricity.

Hohmann concludes his story with some quotes from Jeff Herholdt, director of the WV Division of Energy.  I will quote this entire section of the story below, because it illustrates how warped and bizarre the Division of Energy’s perspective has become:

Jeff Herholdt, chairman of the West Virginia Public Energy Authority and director of the state Department of Commerce’s Division of Energy, said the division is preparing to write a state energy plan for 2013 to 2017.

The division wrote the first plan, for 2007 to 2011. This time, “we’re contracting with West Virginia University to do the fossil side and Marshall University to do the energy efficiency and renewable energy side,” Herholdt said. “Public hearings will be held on the new plan later in 2012.”

Herholdt said the purpose of the plan is to answer the question, “How, on a BTU (British Thermal Unit) basis, do we back out of that portion of oil in our system that comes from foreign countries?”

So Herholdt and the Division of Energy are going to commission two separate studies that separate fossil fuels from energy efficiency and renewable power generation?  Why?  Why not develop an integrated process that starts with cost and reliability and then work from there?  Instead, Herholdt’s planning process seems to replicate the current focus on fossil fuel generation as the “real world” while treating more reliable and less expensive energy resources as a sideshow?

And why is Herholdt focusing on the coal industry’s national propaganda theme (eliminating foreign oil) instead of building a reliable energy system for WV?  It seems that once again, Herholdt’s “energy plan” will be driven by a political and industry agenda rather than solid economics and the innovative powers of West Virginians.

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