Friday, August 17, 2007

Behind the Coal Plant (Again)

A recent article in The State points out something that is undoubtedly true: South Carolinians waste a lot of energy:

South Carolinians are the third-highest consumers of energy per capita, according to the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit organization. South Carolinians consume 10 percent more electricity than the national average, and more than twice what the same number of Californians use.
While the author of this article is to be applauded for pointing out these crucial facts,
he misses the point when he allows Santee Cooper, South Carolina's state-owned electric utility, to put all of the blame on its customers for this sad state of affairs:
New homeowners don’t focus on efficiency as they shop, Mr. Carter [Santee Cooper's CEO] said. Even when homeowners do think about it, they often don’t take action. Mr. Carter says that Santee Cooper performs free energy audits of homes, checking to see where power is being wasted. But most people who get one fail to follow its conclusions up with action, he said.
I challenge any one out there to visit Santee Cooper's website, and quickly find any information about how to get someone from Santee Cooper to visit your home to conduct a free energy audit. How about calling Santee Cooper and getting such information without having to talk to more than one person and leaving a message to have your call returned. If you're persistent enough to get someone to your home for an audit, are you to blame if all Santee Cooper does at the end is hand you a piece of paper with some boilerplate "tips" on how you might do better and in confusion you end up doing nothing? Who's supposed to be the energy expert here?

Let's not single out Santee Cooper here though, who, its is true, will audit your home's energy use for you if you go to enough trouble to make them -- no other major utility in the state even offers the service.

Mr. Carter laments the supposed "indifference" of his customers to his company's efforts to help them save energy. But how many of these customers are AWARE of these programs? How hard has Santee Cooper and other utilities tried to get the word out? And are these programs adequate in the first place?

Elsewhere Mr. Carter has been quoted as saying, "I don't have the luxury of not making sure that in the future the customers have the electricity they want. And I can't make them conserve. I can simply give them the opportunity."

It is telling that a Summerville resident took time to respond to this sentiment with a letter to the Editor. In it she wrote:
Tell us what will work. Make a plan. We'll listen. We can pull together.
Can she be the only one? What this article fails to communicate is that a large part of the reason why South Carolina wastes so much energy is that the utilities have yet to do enough to help its customers conserve -- it hasn't given them much of an opportunity at all. Creating programs that are underfunded, customer-unfriendly, and poorly advertised serve as good excuses for utility executives, but nothing more.

South Carolinians can't hope to reverse their history of wastefulness without leadership from the utilities. We need aggressive, comprehensive, utility-led initiatives to save energy now.

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