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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hop on the (Investment) Cycle: Build Wind and Solar Now!

Dusty Johnson gets me thinking about power generation and capital investment cycles:

In the 1980s, some South Dakota utilities raised rates 30 percent and higher -- several more than 50 percent -- as they built their infrastructure base.

Since then, the state and nation have seen about 20 years of rate stability, Johnson said, as utilities and their customers enjoyed the fruits of those infrastructure investments.

But in the next five years, Johnson said, the state and nation may again see large rate increases as utilities build new wind facilities, power plants and transmission lines and invest in energy efficiency.

"Now we are reaching a new capital expenditure cycle where we are investing in infrastructure," Johnson said [Barbara Soderlin, "Electric Rate Request High But Not Unprecedented," Rapid City Journal, 2009.10.06].

So we're on the cusp of a big investment cycle. If it works like the previous cycle, utilities will sink big money into some serious power generation infrastructure, then (quite reasonably) put off more building until they've gotten their money's worth out of whatever they build this time around.

So if we build more coal plants now, we're stuck with them, and their emissions, for at least twenty-some years.

If the investment cycle is about to kick in, if utilities are ready to build, if they build in big spurts only once every couple decades, and if our rates are going to spike up anyway, we might as well get our money's worth and invest that money in the energy of the future now: wind, solar, and other alternatives. We can take a big schwack out of emissions and stockpile another twenty years of additional fossil fuel reserves for our great-great-grandkids, just in case they need it.

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