Affordable, reliable and sustainable: report compares utility performance

With three hurricanes in 2020, Louisiana had the worst performance among states for getting the power back on after a major event, according to a new report that compared how utilities ranked in three areas: reliability, affordability and environmental responsibility. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A nationwide comparison of electric utility performance by an Illinois consumer advocacy group found that customers in states that are heavily reliant on fuel oil and natural gas, as in the Northeast and South, tend to pay more than those with larger amounts of carbon-free generation, among other findings.

The report by the Illinois-based Citizens Utility Board ranked all 50 states and the District of Columbia for utility reliability, affordability and environmental responsibility using 2020 public data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Census Bureau.

For overall performance across those categories, the top 10 were, starting with the highest ranked, Washington, Nevada, the District of Columbia, South Dakota, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, Minnesota, Oregon and Nebraska. The bottom 10, starting with the lowest ranked, were West Virginia, Alaska, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Michigan, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and Connecticut. North Carolina came in 26th.

It’s the second year in a row the group has compiled the report, which started as a way to measure how Illinois compared to other states and morphed into a project it hopes will be useful for utility regulators, electric ratepayers and state policymakers across the country, said David Kolata, the board’s executive director.

“What we’ve tried to do here is provide as full a picture as we possibly can,” he said. “We view this as a conversation starter not a conversation ender. We do think it provides a convenient and accessible way to get at this data. … Our hope is every state will improve in these categories.”

Affordability

Given the wide state-by-state variance in regulatory regimes, the difference in rates between customer classes and how their bills are put together, it can be difficult to compare electric prices across state lines. Also, climate and heating and cooling differences can make apples-to-apples bill comparisons tough. Electric customers in the South, for example, tend to rely on electricity for heating in the winter and face hotter summers that require more air conditioning than in the North, where gas is more common for home heating.

“Whereas households in warmer climates may consume more electricity on an annual basis to run air conditioning units than households in colder climates, those same households will not spend as much on natural gas, propane or other heating fuels during the winter,” the report says. Other states, like Alaska and Hawaii, are expensive by virtue of their geographic isolation from the larger U.S. electric grid.

The top 10 for overall affordability — as measured by average household energy expenditures, total household electric costs as a percentage of income, electric cost per kilowatt hour, total cost electricity expenditures and cost of energy efficiency savings — were Read more

More federal dollars coming from climate law for Western wildfire management

Touting his environmental ‘success,’ DeSantis is more con man than conservationist

Gov. Ron DeSantis gives his second inaugural speech in front of the Old Florida Capitol Building on Jan. 3, 2023. Credit: Danielle J. Brown.

Maybe it’s because I’m from Florida, home to sooooo many slick talkers, but I love a good yarn about con artists. “The Sting,” “American Hustle,” “The Music Man” — the list of great grifter movies is a long one, including “The Grifters.”

These stories show how some people can weave a magical spell with words that allows them to siphon all the money out of a mark’s pockets. Often, they do it without the mark even realizing they’ve been conned.

So when I heard Gov. Ron DeSantis’ second inauguration speech, I couldn’t help but to stand up and applaud. What a great con job!

The news coverage of the governor’s speech focused mostly on his truculent proclamation that this is the state where “woke” — a term that means “being aware of important facts and issues” — goes to die. Remember that the next time you walk into a state office and find all the employees have dozed off. The governor is apparently OK with that.

But there was a lot more to the speech than him throwing out political buzzwords left and right (or rather, right and further right).

What really got my attention was what he said about Florida’s rampant water pollution problems. You know what I mean — the ones that keep fueling toxic algae blooms that stink up our waterways, kill off our seagrass, and starve manatees, not to mention making our tourists choke and gasp.

Let me quote it verbatim:

“We promised to usher in a new era of stewardship for Florida’s natural resources by promoting water quality and Everglades restoration efforts — and we delivered.”

Isn’t that a masterpiece of misdirection?

It sure SOUNDS good — or rather, the pieces do. “A new era of stewardship!” “Promoting water quality!” “Everglades restoration!” And he says he delivered, just as reliably as the U.S. Postal Service!

But if you try to pin this wriggling little sentence down to analyze what it means, you’ll find it slipping through your fingers. It sounds like he’s bragging about how he’s cleaned up Florida’s pollution when in fact he’s basically admitting he’s done nothing of the kind.

“He is the master of the greenwash,” fussed Cris Costello, the Sierra Club’s senior organizer, who is clearly not as big a con man fan as I am. “The truth is, he not only hasn’t done anything, he’s actually made things worse.”

Yet with his dazzling diversion, DeSantis has casually sidestepped the consequences of not keeping his promise to clean up our waterways. In fact, he’s danced away from any responsibility for the sorry state of our waters.

Even though he’s the one who let it happen. Read more

New report: Utility CEO’s take home giant salaries, even as companies fumble transition to sustainable energy

Republished from the Energy and Policy Institute report, “Utility CEOs received $2.7 billion in executive compensation from 2017 – 2021”

Duke Energy chief Lynn Good is among the highest paid despite company’s inadequate work to tackle the climate emergency

Most Americans are aware of just how obscenely inflated many CEO salaries have become, but a new report from Joe Smyth of the Energy and Policy Institute on the compensation packages provided to the CEO’s of investor owned utilities really brings it home.

This is from the report:

Investor-owned electric and gas utilities paid their CEOs $2.7 billion between 2017 and 2021, according to corporate data reviewed by the Energy and Policy Institute.

CEOs for the 58 companies reviewed for this analysis received more than $629 million in 2021, a nearly 40% increase from the $451 million paid in 2017. That is far higher than the 14.8% Consumer Price Index inflation rate from January 2017 to December 2021.

The highest paid CEO in 2021 was PG&E’s Patricia Poppe, whose compensation totaled $51.2 million; the company’s proxy statement says that $35.8 million of her compensation package were “one-time awards intended to compensate her for compensation that was forfeited from her prior employer.”

…22 utility companies paid their CEOs more than $50 million during the five year period: NextEra Energy, Southern Company, PG&E, WEC Energy, Duke Energy, Sempra Energy, CenterPoint Energy, Eversource, Dominion Energy, Xcel Energy, Exelon, Berkshire Hathaway, Entergy, DTE Energy, American Electric Power, PPL Corporation, FirstEnergy, Public Service Enterprise Group, Edison International, Consolidated Edison, AES, and Atmos Energy.

The report goes on to explain that while the compensation packages are outrageously extravagant, most are not linked in any way to what is arguably the most urgent task of all carbon pollution producing industries: reducing emissions.

An Energy and Policy Institute report published in 2020 analyzed the executive compensation policies and practices of 19 of the largest investor-owned electric utilities in the US. That analysis found that the utilities’ executive compensation policies did not incentivize decarbonization, despite calls from major investor groups like Climate Action 100+. Of the 19 major utilities analyzed in the EPI report, only Xcel Energy’s executive compensation policies encouraged executives to meet targeted emissions reductions goals.

Perhaps not surprisingly, North Carolina-based Duke Energy does not come out looking good. Smyth reports that CEO Lynn Good raked in nearly $81.5 million between 2017 and 2021 and that the company received a “D-” grade for linking corporate executive compensation policies effectively incentivize decarbonization. Midwest-based Xcel Energy in contrast, got a “B” for its efforts in this realm.

Click here to read Smyth’s report, “Utility CEOs received $2.7 billion in executive compensation from 2017 – 2021,” and here to read “Pay for climate performance,” by the group As You Sow.

Note: Policy Watch reporter Lisa Sorg will report Thursday morning on a controversial plan recently approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission in which it spells out ways in which Duke Energy will be directed to reduce carbon emissions.

Upcoming online event: The Pentagon, climate change and war

We know there are many reasons people of conscience adopt sustainable practices. But to consider Earth care from the (somewhat alien-seeming) perspective of national security is to recognize an additional value: its life-affirming practices can contribute profoundly to peace on Earth.

To consider just that, a group of Triangle and North Carolina organizations and faith communities are co-sponsoring an online forum, The Pentagon, Climate Change and War, on January 17, 12:00-1:30 PM featuring Prof. Neta C. Crawford, the Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford in the U.K. The forum will focus on the Pentagon, the world’s largest single greenhouse gas emitter. Tracing the U.S. military’s growing consumption of energy, Prof. Crawford calls for a re-conceptualization of foreign policy and military doctrine.  Only such a rethinking, she argues, will break the link between national security and fossil fuels.

Prof. Crawford is the author of The Pentagon, Climate Change and War, Argument and Change in World Politics (winner of the best book award from the American Political Science Association), and Accountability for Killing: Moral Responsibility for Collateral Damage in America’s Post -9/11 Wars. She also  co-directs the Costs of War Project of the Watson Institute at Brown University.

In her book The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War (published in October, 2022 by the MIT Press), Prof. Crawford details how the Pentagon became the world’s largest single greenhouse gas emitter and why it’s not too late to break the link between national security and fossil fuel consumption. She documents how the military has for years (unlike many politicians) acknowledged that climate change is real, creating conditions so extreme that some military officials fear future climate wars. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Defense—military forces and DOD agencies—is the largest single energy consumer in the United States and the world’s largest institutional greenhouse gas emitter. In this eye-opening book, Neta Crawford traces the U.S. military’s growing consumption of energy and calls for a reconceptualization of foreign policy and military doctrine. Only such a rethinking, she argues, will break the link between national security and fossil fuels.

The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War shows how the U.S. economy and military together have created a deep and long-term cycle of economic growth, fossil fuel use, and dependency. This cycle has shaped U.S. military doctrine and, over the past fifty years, has driven the mission to protect access to Persian Gulf oil. Crawford shows that even as the U.S. military acknowledged and adapted to human-caused climate change, it resisted reporting its own greenhouse gas emissions.

Examining the idea of climate change as a “threat multiplier” in national security, she argues that the United States faces more risk from climate change than from lost access to Persian Gulf oil—or from most military conflicts. The most effective way to cut military emissions, Crawford suggests provocatively, is to rethink U.S. grand strategy, which would enable the United States to reduce the size and operations of the military.

Register here

Note: This Zoom event will not be recorded so please join us on 1/17/23!

This forum is co-sponsored by Highland UMC Micah 6:8 Team, North Carolina Peace Action, Interfaith Creation Care of the Triangle, Campaign Nonviolence, and Veterans for Peace

Lynn Lyle is a founding member and president of Interfaith Creation Care of the Triangle.