February 7, 2008
By Jack Spencer and Nicolas Loris
Maryland's Allegheny Energy recently mailed two compact
fluorescent light bulbs to each of its customers. Imagine the
indignation when those customers noticed a $12 charge for the
Despite promises that the bulbs would save money, help the
environment and prevent blackouts, Allegheny's customers were
peeved. They wrote letters to editors and lit fires under local
politicians. Allegheny relented and agreed to pay for the
This incident raises an important question. Why was a power
company compelled to pull a stunt that predictably raised the ire
of their customers?
Because utilities face a serious problem. Electricity demand is
projected to increase 40 percent by 2030, according to government
estimates. Meanwhile, overzealous regulators make it difficult to
expand energy capacity. So power companies are left with few
options - even fewer now that mailing light bulbs is a proven
Unfortunately, instead of loosening regulations to induce capacity
expansion, state and federal governments are moving toward
rationing electricity. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, for example,
wants to mandate reductions by 15 percent in electricity use by
2015 (based on 2007 usage rates) and force state utilities to
produce 20 percent of their energy from solar, wind and other
renewable fuels by 2022.
Proponents make it sound so simple. Just buy a new dishwasher,
build a couple of windmills, put some solar cells on the roof and -
voila - energy problem solved. Not really. Maryland would have to
reduce its electricity consumption by about a fifth of today's use
- or the equivalent of a half a million households - to meet Mr.
O'Malley's objective. Since Maryland produces only 1.3 percent of
its electricity from renewables, increasing that to 20 percent in
the next 14 years would be daunting, to say the least.
Still, some may say, all this sounds fair enough. What's wrong
with some aggressive conservation? Well, there's a lot wrong when
it's unjustifiably forced upon consumers.
Think about it. The legitimacy of these draconian efforts is
rooted in the notion there is an energy shortage. Conservation,
after all, makes sense when there is a shortage of something.
But energy is not in short supply. There are fossil fuels, and
lots of them, right here in America. Yet America is one of the few
nations that chooses to leaves much of its own reserves
Yes, wind and solar power are options. But the technology hasn't
advanced yet to the point where these are affordable enough or
reliable enough to satisfy our growing energy demands.
Then there's nuclear power. It is emissions-free, affordable,
proven and safe. It already provides the United States with 20
percent of its electricity. It can be used and recycled again and
again, making it essentially limitless.
Nuclear power has the added benefit of solving many of the
problems cited to justify faulty conservation plans and centrally
planned energy mandates. It's abundant, environmentally friendly,
free of carbon dioxide (CO2) and domestically produced. Yet
officials continue to ignore its advantages.
If they're genuinely concerned about the threat of greenhouse
gases or America's dependence on foreign energy, they should seek
ways to expand nuclear energy. A few simple policy changes would do
Licensing the Yucca Mountain repository, recycling spent fuel,
assuring regulatory certainty, and protecting nuclear-power
operators from overzealous litigators would all facilitate
near-term construction of nuclear power plants.
Yet there are too few politicians clamoring to advance such an
While nuclear energy is coming back, it is not quite back yet. The
old days of anti-nuclear fear mongering may be over, but we haven't
fully recovered from 30 years of anti-nuclear propaganda. As a
result, many continue to distance themselves from the
U.S. interests are best served by an energy mix that includes
fossil fuels, nuclear power and renewable energies. If it does turn
out that CO2 is a problem - a conclusion for which there is no
consensus, despite what we're told - then the role of nuclear
energy will be even more critical.
In Maryland, planners are itching to build a nuclear power plant
that would solve the state's energy supply problem and help meet
its CO2 reduction goals. Unfortunately, bureaucrats are getting in
The nation needs a brighter idea than light bulbs in the mail.
Officials should step aside and allow American ingenuity to finally
solve our energy problems.
is a research fellow in nuclear energy and Nicolas Loris is a
research assistant at the Heritage Foundation
Distributed nationally on the McClatchy Tribune wire
Maryland's Allegheny Energy recently mailed two compact fluorescent light bulbs to each of its customers. Imagine the indignation when those customers noticed a $12 charge for the unsolicited mailing.
Senior Research Fellow, Nuclear Energy Policy
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