One More Reason To Be Thankful

There is a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. There are things like warm beds, food on the table, and steady work that pays the bills. There are people, too. The selfless heroes in our armed forces who defend our nation. Those in blue who protect our streets. The brave firefighters who put themselves in danger. The doctors and nurses who work tirelessly to save lives. Those men and women deserve our praise, our admiration, and more. But allow me to add another group to that list, one that might not seem so obvious: electrical workers.

Electrical Workers Restore Power in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina (Photo by John Lowrey)

Growing up the son of a telecommunications supervisor, I learned at an early age that those who work in utility maintenance have special jobs. It’s often said that firefighters run into buildings while others run out of them. Electrical workers often do something much like that. When storms are raging and conditions are at their worst, most sensible people head for shelter. Those responsible for keeping the lights on do the opposite. They put on their boots and their jackets and prepare to spend nights in the rain or snow. I know because I watched my own father do that. I watched him and his team do whatever it took to keep the telephones working in west Alabama, even if it meant working through the night or through a holiday.

One of my friends, Joey Holmes, saw his father do the same thing. His father, Ricky Holmes, worked together with my father for more than thirty years. They worked together, as others in the team did, through countless nights to restore phone service to customers. They often went unnoticed, unthanked, and unheralded for their dedication. After all, we rarely think of utility service until it goes out. That’s not our fault, as customers. On the contrary, it’s a compliment to the men and women who do their job so well. Like football referees, the better they do, the less attention they draw.

While I decided to work in politics, my friend, Joey, followed his father’s footsteps. He works on a substation construction crew for a major utility. Like both of our fathers before us, he’s one of the hardest working people I know. His work has taken him to so many places, far from his family and his home, to work long hours providing power to people who will never meet him. His kind of job, the same job done by thousands of electrical workers from one coast to another, isn’t the kind you do if you want medals. It’s the kind of job whose reward comes from knowing that what you do makes people’s lives better.

Last Thanksgiving, I wrote that reliability is something for which Americans should be thankful, stating –

“It’s easy to take reliable power for granted. It is only when the lights begin to dim and television sets begin to flicker, as they might soon do in Scotland, that the consequences of irresponsible energy policy become clear. Thankfully, U.S. policy makers still have time to preserve the robust and nearly perfectly-dependable system that makes electrical reliability just an afterthought for most American families. It only requires a realization that environmental agendas must be balanced carefully with engineering realities and that the electrons that power American homes and businesses must come largely from sources we can control. It doesn’t take the brightest bulb to recognize those realities, just leadership with a clear and unwavering focus on protecting the power grid that makes America great.”

That thought remains as true today as it did this time last year. This Thanksgiving, I suggest that we should be thankful, as well, for the people behind our power grid. They may not dodge bullets or run into fires, but what they do often requires sacrifice and character. And what they do is a big part of what makes America great.

My friend, Joey Holmes, and his wife just had their first child, a beautiful baby girl. As he and his family gather around their own Thanksgiving table, I know they’ll be thankful for her. As for me, added to the many blessings life has given me, I’ll be thankful for Joey and other electrical workers like him. They are why my oven works and my lights burn. They are part of what makes my Thanksgiving – and yours – possible.


PACE Delivers Message to EPA on Carbon Mandate

Later this morning, in Atlanta, PACE Executive Director Lance Brown will deliver the following official statement to EPA as part of an agency listening session on the Clean Power Plan.

Read the official statement online here.

Representatives of EPA, in July of last year I rose to represent the concerns of more than twenty partners across the Southeast. These included energy users large and small who want to keep their lights on and factory machines running at an affordable price. We delivered the clear message that customers nationwide will be affected negatively by the new carbon dioxide regulation proposed by EPA.

We have no doubt that the rule will raise the price of electricity, contrary to EPA’s assertion. We argued then that the rule would make our nation’s energy portfolio less diverse; that the rule would make the price of electricity more volatile by forcing utilities to use more natural gas; and that the rule would establish winners and losers in the energy marketplace. We asserted those points in July of last year and we assert them again today.

We also pointed out things that the rule would not do. We included in our remarks the testimony to Congress by EPA Chief Gina McCarthy in September of 2013 that this agency’s regulation of carbon dioxide would not cause any measurable change in the agency’s 26 indicators of climate change. Administrator McCarthy, nor anyone at EPA, has ever produced any data for the American public that shows what positive effect this new rule will have on the agency’s climate indicators. Isn’t the core of any good piece of public policy the prediction that it will have positive empirical results?

We asserted in July of las year that if Americans truly realized that their government was trading affordable power prices and a strong and stable electricity portfolio only for political leverage, they would not support this rule. We predicted they would be angry, and disappointed, and wondering why the executive branch has made such a terrible bargain. We have spent the past year talking to energy users and I can tell you firsthand they are all of those things.

We said last July that this agency’s carbon rule would speed the closure of coal-fired power plants in the U.S., forcing another 114 gigawatts of generation off the grid. That is exactly what is happening. Look no further than coal-fired plant closures in Walker and Mobile Counties in Alabama. Look no further than coal miners laid off in Tuscaloosa County. What EPA and its allies continually said would not happen is happening.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world will use U.S. coal to produce more than six additional tons of carbon for every one ton we reduce under this rule. We said it in July and we will say it again: the earth’s temperature will not change because of this rule, but power bills will.

The EPA still has a chance to take a sensible approach to addressing climate change and focus on more reasonable measures that deliver real results. We implore you to do so.



Military Solar Projects Represent Win-Win for State

In July, PACE opined about a plan by Alabama Power to install as much as 500 megawatts of renewable energy – mostly solar power – across the state in the near future. The move by the state’s largest utility provider, which is part of an overall plan to deploy renewable projects without customer subsidy, drew bipartisan praise from a number of groups and elected officials statewide. PACE has supported projects of this type, including one in New Orleans, that represent a responsible approach for all customers.

Now, word comes that Alabama Power’s renewable energy initiative could help protect military bases in the state during the next round of military closures. According to reports, the Alabama Public Service Commission has approved the first two projects to be built under the plan, which will be housed at Fort Rucker and the Anniston Army Depot. The projects will help fulfill a commitment by the Department of Defense to obtain a quarter of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Each of the two projects will produce about 10 megawatts of solar power.

The total cost of the projects will be just under $50 million, but the benefit to the facilities could be high in terms of ensuring their survival in future rounds of base closures. Fort Rucker houses the U.S. Army’s aviation training base and employs nearly 14,000 people. Anniston Army Depot employs more than 4,000 people. In addition to their national security significance, they are important economic development engines for their local communities.

“We want customers to understand that this project has broader benefits,” Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman told the Birmingham Business Journal. “We are working with the military to meet their goals, and they are important to the state, so it is important to us to help them. They have certain requirements they are trying to meet regarding renewable energy, and we have been having ongoing conversations with them and these are just the first projects out of the gate.”

Helping to solidify the future of important military bases – wherever they are – as part of a comprehensive renewable energy effort is clearly a good thing. The fact that these innovative projects will not affect the customer base at large makes this news even more of a win-win for all involved. Alabama’s regulators are to be commended for their swift approval of these projects, which add to the state’s growing portfolio of renewable energy projects without requiring money out of other customers’ pockets.