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Google electrifies power consumers by pairing its free PowerMeter software with a power monitor provider; sideteps public utility monopolies

October 9th, 2009 No comments

“If you cannot measure it; You cannot improve it.”

— Lord Kelvin

I noted in February (“Empowering power consumers: Google beta tests software to give consumers real-time info“) that Google, whose climate change-related efforts I’ve blogged about previously,
has been beta testing a new “PowerMeter” software that – when coupled with a “Smart Meter” installed by the local utility – will help consumers to measure, track and compare their real-time
electric usage, thereby allowing them to make better choices as to when
and how they use electricity, and to better match such use
to the pricing programs of their utilities. Google testers
have found that the software allows them to relatively easily cut use
(by an average of 15%), and to save on their electricity bills by an
even greater percentage.

Google has just announced that it has side-stepped the need for consumers to wait for their utility to install a smart meter, by partnering directly with TED (“The Energy Detective“), the provider of the TED 5000 device, presently priced at about $200, that consumers can  have attached to their power supply.

More information is here (from The Energy Circle, which has been testing PowerMeter with an earlier TED device) and here (CNET).

Next up? Hope springs eternal that developments like this will remind policy makers, pundits, pressure groups (like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and browbeating enviros like Joe Romm) that the real reason for the nasty public squabbling over “green” power mandates and subsidies (as I noted in a recent post about Steven Milloy`s railing about “evil” GE and federal stimulus
money
) is the fact that power markets are not free, but are burdened by sweet – and horrifically inefficient – cost+ deals to the public utilities. As I noted previously:

While there are plenty of root causes for the calls for legislative
and regulatory mandates in favor of clean / green / renewable power,
such as:

  • concerns about climate change,
  • the political deal in favor of dirty coal under the Clean Air Act, 
  • the enduring role of the federal and state governments in owning
    vast coal fields (the royalties from which it does not distribute to
    citizens but go into the General Pork Pool), 
  • the unwillingness of state courts, in the face of the political
    power of the mining industry, to protect persons and private from
    pollution and environmental disruption created by mining,
  • the deep involvement of the government in developing, encouraging and regulating nuclear power,

the most obvious and proximate root
cause is something that attracts far too little attention – the
frustration of consumer demand for green energy, and the inefficient
and inaccurate pricing and supply of electricity
.  It`s prettty clear that the
grant of public utility monopolies and the regulation of the pricing
and investments by utilities greatly restrict the freedom of power
markets, from the ability of consumers to choose their provider, to the
freedom of utilities to determine what infrastructure to invest in, to
even simple information
as to the cost of power as it varies by time of day and season, and the amount power consumers use by time of day or appliance.

With freer markets, we would see much more competition, better
pricing, much more cost-saving (and conservation), and more money
flowing into green power. So why is so little attention being paid to
all of the gains that could be achieved from less – and more rational –
power regulation?

Ringside seat on the fight to steer the Chamber of Commerce`s climate bus

October 7th, 2009 No comments

On the heels of my post about Apple leaving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here are a few more links and excerpts for eager readers (who have been spared a longer post that vanished into the ether as pixie dust crashed Mozilla and my prior unsaved draft) (emphasis added).

1.  The Chamber`s opaque policy-making mechanism on climate, and the trigger for the wave of departures from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce;

see long article at NYT:

U.S. Chamber of Commerce staff decides the trade group’s climate and
energy policy positions without approval from the board of directors,
Nike Inc. charged as it formulated a plan to call for greater chamber
openness.

Nike, which last week left the chamber’s board of directors but decided
to remain a chamber member
, described a lack of transparency at the
group that conflicts with how the chamber describes its operations. …

“We just weren’t clear in how decisions on climate and energy were
being made,” said Brad Figel, Nike’s director of government relations.
“They’re not being made at the board-of-director level, because we’re a
member of the board of directors. We were not consulted. We’re
convinced that’s not really where the action on climate change is being
made.”

The chamber reaches its positions through a “democratic
process” that is “driven by members,” chamber spokesman Eric
Wohlschlegel said yesterday. …

“Policy is developed and recommendations are made to the whole
board,” spokesman Wohlschlegel said yesterday. “It’s an open and
voluntary process, and it’s formulated by a majority of our members
that represents the broader business community’s perspective and not just the interests of one sector, one energy sector … or one sector of the economy.”

He
would not address Nike’s statement, however, that while it had
representation on the board of directors, the board did not vote on
climate policy positions. Wohlschlegel would not say when the board
last took a vote on its position on climate legislation. …

“They told us these decisions were made by staff [and not pursuant to the Board`s committee system],” Figel said. He
said that Nike was told that “this is a longstanding chamber policy,”
and that “once the policy is established, a lot of these decisions can
be made at the staff level.”

Last spring, Figel said, Nike told
the chamber that it wanted to be consulted on climate issues. After
that, he said, “there were several decisions that were made by the
chamber that we weren’t consulted on.”

In particular, Figel said, Nike recoiled at a chamber official’s
call for an EPA trial similar to the Scopes Monkey Trial on
evolutionary theory
[regarding EPA`s steps to employ regulatory authority affirmed by a Supreme Court decision during the Bush administration].

“That’s not helpful in any way,” Figel said. “That put a lot of companies on edge, how they phrased that.”

The
statement this summer by William Kovacs, a chamber senior vice
president, that the science of global warming should face a public
trial similar to the Scopes Monkey Trial thrust the trade group into a
new realm, [Kenneth] Green [resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute] said.

“That was beyond the pale in terms of
aggressiveness that I’ve seen in a trade association
,” Green said. “At
that point, they were really inserting themselves into the political
process in an extremely visible way, not just a matter of lobbying for
their companies but really engaging in the bigger cultural argument. I
wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t what scared some people away.”

Note (from Marc Gunther at Salon in April):  ” Nike—along with Starbucks (SBUX), Levi Strauss, and Timberland
(TBL)—helped form a green-business coalition to lobby for strong
federal actions on climate. The coalition is called BICEP: Business for
Innovative Climate and Energy Policy
.”

From blog of Marc Gunther (who is a Fortune contributing editor):

To be sure, the chamber, which calls itself “the voice of business”
and spent about $62 million lobbying Congress last year, also has lots
of members from the oil, coal and energy-intensive industries who
oppose federal regulation of greenhouse gases. Its 122-member board
includes executives from Consol Energy, Massey Energy, Peabody Energy,
and the Southern Co.

The smart thing for the chamber to do would be to stay neutral—to
admit that business is divided on the issue and to leave lobbying up to
individual companies. Instead, some chamber officials offered up
reasonable arguments against the bills pending in Congress and others
went off the deep end. In a remark that was ill-advised at best and
downright dumb at worst, William Kovacs, the chamber’s senior vice
president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, called
for a public trial about climate science that he said would be “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century.”

2.  Who dissents from the Chamber`s long-standing opposition to climate change legislation? (with links to statements)

Quit the Chamber: Exelon, PNM Resources, PG&E, Apple.

Quit the Chamber`s Board: Nike.

Says Chamber doesn’t represent their views on climate:

– seven Board members from companies that are part of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a wide business coalition pushing for passage of climate
legislation: Alcoa, Caterpillar,
ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical, Duke Energy, Siemens and Xerox

General Electric, General Motors, Ford, Shell, DuPont, American Electric Power, and John Deere also support mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions.

ExxonMobil favors a carbon tax (as I have noted several times).

Entergy, a New Orleans-based utility also on the board

General Electric,

Johnson & Johnson,

San Jose Chamber of Commerce.

Note: Those expressly in favor of the Chamber`s go slow approach on climate appear to be limited to coal firms Peabody Energy, Massey Energy Corp.,
and CONSOL Energy, and freight shipper Con-Way Inc.  As noted previously, Chamber CEO Tom Donohue is closely tied to coal shipper Union Pacific.

3.  In a move that shows how little the Chamber cares about the opinion and positions of its dissenting members, CEO Tom Donohue took at jab at Apple in this October 6 letter that he addressed to Apple CEO Steve Jobs in response to Apple`s announced resignation from the Chamber (with editorial comments):

Dear Mr. Jobs:

“I
am sorry to learn of Apple’s resignation from the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce. It is unfortunate that your company didn’t take the time to
understand the Chamber’s position on climate and forfeited the
opportunit
y to advance a 21st century approach to climate change. [Needless, to say, Apple quit because it fully understood and was fed up with the Chamber`s actual position – unrelenting intransigence; PG&E said in its letter to the Chamber announcing its withdrawal: Extreme rhetoric and obstructionist tactics seem to increasingly mark
the Chamber’s public stance on this issue.
]

“The
U.S. Chamber of Commerce continues to support strong federal
legislation and a binding international agreement to reduce carbon
emissions and address climate change.
[The Chamber has no consistent expressed approach; it has opposed all federal legislation, and opposes provisions that would penalize foreign countries not adopting similar legislation. It is simply trying to put lipstick on a pig.] Furthermore, we believe that
Congress should set climate change policy through legislation, rather
than having the EPA apply existing environmental statutes that were not
created to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. This is also the stated
position of the President and Congressional leaders. [The regulatory threat exists only because the Bush administration and Republican Congress refused to act, and because the Chamber has exercised no leadership in outlining constructive legislation.]

“Your
letter states that “Apple is committed to the environment and the
communities in which we operate around the world.” So is the Chamber
but we are also committed to preserving the competitiveness and
prosperity of the communities and businesses in our nation. [Particularly the competitiveness and prosperity of the Chamber members that mine, transport and burn coal.]

“While
we do support legislation to address climate change [the Chamber continues to take the position that even an average 3 degrees C increase over the next century would bring net benefits], we oppose
legislation such as the Waxman-Markey bill that numerous studies show
will cause Americans to lose their jobs and shift greenhouse gas
emissions overseas, negating potential climate benefits. An effective
climate change response must include all major CO2 emitting economies,
promote new technologies, emphasize efficiency, ensure affordable
energy for families and businesses, and defend American jobs while
returning our economy to prosperity.

“The American business
community that we proudly represent is the single largest investor and
innovator in clean energy solutions and remains committed to a strong
economy and clean environment. … The Chamber believes that the
business community will continue to be the catalyst for reducing
greenhouse gas emissions and we support efforts to tackle climate
change in a way that will strengthen our economy, protect American
jobs, and benefit our environment.

“Climate change is a global
problem that requires a global solution. The Chamber supports an
international agreement that will set realistic and achievable goals,
ensure global participation, protect intellectual property rights and
remove trade barriers to environmental goods and services.

I
would have hoped that Apple would have supported our efforts to improve
environmental stewardship
and keep Americans at work and our economy
competitive. As the world’s largest business federation representing
more than 3 million businesses and organizations of every size, sector,
and region, the Chamber is leading the way to support the innovation
needed to transition to a lower carbon future, including the
elimination of barriers to the deployment of clean energy technologies.
Supporting innovation and technology is at the very heart of our
efforts to combat climate change, and we will continue to fight for an
approach that embraces their merits.
 
It is a shame that Apple will not be part of our efforts.” [Yes; the Chamber will just have to “lead” with fewer followers, fewer resources, and less prestige. And it appears that Tom Donohue is trying to “lead” the way to even fewer Chamber members; Dale Carnegie`s “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” anyone? ]

4.  More ongoing insightful (if skewed) commentary on the Chamber of Commerce here by Peter Altman, “Climate Campaign Director” of the mainstream enviro group NRDC (which largely “depend[s] on the kindness of rich people to stay afloat.” Its board and
major donors “come from Wall Street, corporate law firms and big
companies.”

5.  It`s clear that we are looking not merely at a clash of preferences, but a clash of preferences over how government is used – and in whose favor. This would look like classic “rent-seeking”, but for the fact that it relates to the management of an un-owned, open-access commons that affects all of us – the atmosphere and climate system – and the fact that Coasean bargaining on an international scale cannot, in any practical sense, be conducted without involving states.

Now Apple Computer leaves! One-track "King Coal" interests insist on steering the US Chamber of Commerce`s climate bus

October 6th, 2009 No comments

The intransigence of a core of coal interests, in the face of a rebellion by firms that support legislative action on climate change, is threatening the status of the US Chamber of Commerce as the premier business council in the US, as now Apple Computer has quit the US Chamber of Commerce.

Apple`s departure, announced  on October 5 and effective immediately, came on the heels of departures in the past two weeks by the utility companies Pacific Gas & Electric, PNM Resources and Exelon. In addition, Nike has quit the Chamber’s Board, and other members such as Johnson & Johnson have voiced strong opposition to the climate stance of the Chamber and asked that it not take public positions on this issue.

It`s not clear how closely the Chamber has polled all of its wide membership on climate issue, but it`s apparent that the Chamber`s rather hard-line stance is out of step with its Board members.  According to research by the NRDC (a mainline environmentalist group) in May:

the staff of the U.S. Chamber appears to be projecting the views
held by a tiny sliver of its board of directors – just four out of 122
members on the board.

The Chamber’s oft-stated views, which question the scientific
consensus on climate change and reject the need for federal regulation
to reduce global warming pollution, stand in sharp contrast to the
views expressed by 19 members of the Chamber’s board that support
federal regulations with goals to reduce total US global warming
pollution.  

You read that right: only 23 members of the U.S. Chamber’s board have a publicly stated position on climate change and more than 80 percent are not on board with the U.S. Chamber’s “Dr. No” position on climate policy action.

So who is in the minority that has shanghaied the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce on climate policy? Be prepared to be shocked!  Three of the
four climate are coal companies:  Peabody Energy, Massey Energy Corp.,
and CONSOL Energy.  (The fourth – Con-Way Inc. – is “a freight company and logistical services company.”)

As the WaPo noted, in response to prior defections,

Last week, the group’s president, Thomas J. Donohue, said in a
statement that his group supports “strong federal legislation” to
protect the climate. But he said legislation passed by the House of
Representatives — which would use a “cap and trade” system to lower
the cost of reducing emissions — was flawed because it does not
require other polluting countries to act and does too little to spur
U.S. investment in green technologies.

In response to Apple`s departure, a spokesman for the Chamber dissed the motives of the firms quitting the Chamber:

“While we’ll continue to represent the broad majority of our membership
on this goal, we recognize that there are some companies who stand to
gain more than others with the current options on the table.”

While this may be true for the utility companies, which are members of the USCAP organization and stand to gain free allocations of carbon allowances under the cap and trade bills under consideration, it is hardly so for Apple, Nike or Johnson & Johnson. And of course it distracts from the fact that the coal firms and their shippers – including Union Pacific, which richly compensates Union Pacific board member Tom Donohue, the President of the Chamber – benefit greatly from the status quo, to an extent and in a manner quite different from other Chamber members.

It will be interesting to see what will happen next at the Chamber of Commerce, and who will be next to leave.

Categories: chamber of commerce, Coal, rent-seeking Tags: