Don’t Worry, the City Council Will Plusgood Monitor Big Brother to Prevent Abuse

Michael Giberson

So I was quietly reading about Austin, Texas electric power developments in the Austin American-Statesman (“Mueller becoming a lab for energy: Research plans, neighbors’ efforts converging“) when I stumbled across a remark of such – I don’t know what to call it – irony? Orwellian newspeak? Not quite sure what to say, so I’ll just share.

Some elements of the smart grid are already working, Duncan said. For instance, the utility can turn off air conditioners remotely for a few minutes when the system is close to exceeding capacity. The utility does this only with customers who agree ahead of time.

However, in California, regulatory officials withdrew a proposal for a similar program this year after critics accused them of encouraging Big Brother policies.

Duncan said the concerns are unwarranted and noted that the City Council oversees Austin Energy, making political recourse possible.

Really? We don’t have to worry about Big Brother policies because the City Council is watching over everything?

Well then, everything is doubleplusgood.

Actually I’m not too worried about Big Brother in cases in which customers can choose whether or not to participate, and can choose their own competitive retail energy service providers.  What? Consumers can’t choose their own retail energy supplier in Austin because the city government has locked them into the city’s own electric utility?

I hope the Ministry of Plenty is keeping a close eye on the city policies….

6 thoughts on “Don’t Worry, the City Council Will Plusgood Monitor Big Brother to Prevent Abuse

  1. A system that allows the state to reach into our houses and control lights, hvac, and appliances is going to create a lot of questions about how much power they are going to exert over our lives. I think smart grid advocates need to have an answer for those questions.

  2. Why would Corporatist, or Statist, companies invite full (political) wrath when they can, partially, pass on the ‘problem’ to the customer himself.

    Large coverage ‘lights out’ scenarios can be avoided by the enforced control of customers supply; obviously, at the expense of implementing smart meters and cost of such to the customer.

    Disconnection of ‘in arrears’ customers can also be managed by the implementation of pre-payment and/or smart meters…..’problem’ customers are then forced themselves to commit to how much they can afford.

    It’s a win-win situation for BB.

  3. Have you compared the success of your beloved “free market” for customers in Texas? Austin and San Antonio (both muni-owned areas) have by far the cheapest and most reliable power. The municipal utilities are well-run and throw off excess cash. And rates are still lower, some times by far, than in the much larger and presumably more efficient deregulated Houston and Dallas.

    I’d like to see some intellectual honesty in your analysis – and perhaps less pure snark. It might do one good to get off the ideological horse every now and then to see how well things are working in the real world.

  4. Look, if you would rather the system be overloaded to the point of rolling blackouts, fine. But I’d rather the utility be able to tell my AC to wait a few minutes. Not that there aren’t security and privacy problems with the smart grid. There are. But those problems stem from your home sending information to the utility, NOT the utility sending information to your home (information such as “we’re overloaded, your AC has to wait a few minutes.”)

  5. I have one of these doo-hickies in my apartment. We had a rather warm summer here, and I’m not sure whether they ever invoked the option to delay our AC. They certainly didn’t do it in a way that was noticed.

    What is now the competitive area of Texas had considerably higher average rates than Austin and San Antonio long before competition showed up – 10-20% higher in the late ’90s, for example.

    San Antonio has its own generation resources with far more nuke and coal-fired generation than the competitive retailers have access to. ERCOT-wide over 50% of capacity is gas-fired, and marginal costs are almost always based on the cost of gas-fired generation. Nukes run all the time (other than maintenance issues) and coal wants to, and both are cheap, meaning the “last” generation facility to be used for a given 15 minute interval will almost always have gas-based marginal costs of production One effect is that San Antonio’s overall average cost (used in regulated rates) is far lower than the competitive area’s marginal cost(the theoretic price in competition).

    The wholesale market is to ‘blame’ anyway, and that is no different in San Antonio or Austin than in the competitive area. It isn’t the retail providers who are making money – they are retail, and retail is notoriously low-margin. Owners of coal and nuke generation have the opportunity to make economic profits when gas prices are relatively high, which should encourage construction of new facilities using those fuels. What is CPS Energy (San Antonio’s municipal utility) doing? Expanding capacity by adding a new generation unit at an existing coal plant and working toward putting in an additional reactor at the nuclear facility they own a chunk of. Why? Load growth, but they are planning on selling half of the output from their share of the new nuclear facility into the wholesale market. When those projects are complete, they will most likely “crowd out” old, inefficient gas plants (including a couple owned by CPS), lowering marginal (and average for CPS customers) costs. This is a wholesale market working the way it is supposed to, with suppliers responding to price signals by adding capacity of the low-cost form of generation.

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