Thursday, October 15, 2009

How to make political hay by revising Bill 50

Dear Premier Stelmach, and members of the Alberta Legislature,

Thanks for your address to Alberta last night. It's nice to get an update on where things are at in the legislature.

In particular, I appreciate your commitment to deliver an advanced electrical grid to Alberta, and I'm writing because I don't want a second-rate transmission system.

I am concerned, however, that you might be missing an opportunity to make Alberta's electrical grid even more advanced.

As I understand it, the AESO isn't allowed to consider alternatives to electrical transmission. As premier, you can and you should. After all, if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If all you've ever seen is cable TV, you'll be blown away by the internet.

If Bill 50 passes, it will be tantamount to (at least) an $8.1 Billion Dollar tax on the Alberta Economy. In your speech last night, you said you wouldn't raise taxes. Even if you let the electrical companies collect the fee, everyone will know that the Stelmach Government was responsible for the tax. Even if individual Albertans can currently afford the added cost on their electrical bill, they would face increased prices as businesses and manufacturers in Alberta raise prices and have to work that much harder to stay in business.

Moreover, increased transmission lines do not, by themselves, generate any additional electricity, so additional generating capacity would be required on top of the transmission in order to deliver the power to Albertans, your constituents.

If you take the generation and transmission problem together, you can let people generate electricity at a small scale in lots and lots of places. This would build in a large amount of capacity and redundancy into the grid, and deliver the power to the people without requiring expensive, long distance, high voltage transmission lines. The distributed generation strategy might have the generation cost more, but the total cost of generation & transmission would be far less, because the expensive additional transmission wouldn't be required.

You could ask the AESO introduce feed-in tariffs, which would pay a large premium to electricity users who put green power back into the grid. This would induce people to provide the additional capacity close to the demand. This could be done for less than the cost of additional transmission lines. Meanwhile, localized 'smart grid' improvements would make it possible for the grid to communicate electrical demand, perhaps paying higher feed-in tariffs when demand is higher.

Feed-in Tariffs are already in use and successful in Europe, and a modern, robust electrical grid would do well to make use of the massively distributed electrical generation that they would provide. You wouldn't even have to build the generation. They would build it themselves.

The Feed-In Tariffs would also jump start the green-power industry, providing jobs for many Albertans installing solar panels and natural gas cogeneration units into people's houses.

Politically speaking, you are in an excellent position right now to transition to a distributed electrical plan. People have seen the staggering $8.1 Billion figure that they know they will be on the hook for, and they're scared. An option like this is a ray of sunshine on a stormy day. It would look really good to be a leader and a government who was the father of the smart-grid in Alberta. If it's presented as a choice between a bunch of power lines that do nothing but shuttle the power around, or empowering regular Albertans to make money by producing clean power in their own neighbourhood, there's a clear answer. Give the power to the people and they'll love you for it.

Premier Stelmach, please set aside Bill 50, and use the momentum instead to revitalize the electrical system to bring Alberta a truly visionary power grid that functions more like the internet, and less like cable TV. Your constituents will thank you for it.

With hope,

Aaron Holmes

1 comment:

  1. Well said my friend. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that a lot of smart people are thinking just like me and you on topics such as distributed energy.

    The shame is that our government is not making the smart choices and I am increasingly baffled by what is driving their decisions and actions.