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El Paso Energy solar panels
Fossil fuel energy is still cheaper than renewable energy because coal and oil had a huge head start in capturing the market—oil by more than a century, coal by many centuries. We’ve reinforced this head start with billions in annual federal subsidies for many decades, and we’re still augmenting all this with more legislative favors at the federal level that keep fossil fuel prices low.

Though fossil fuels still have the advantage in both price and scale, state and local governments and small utilities like El Paso Electric (EPE) keep working to speed the transition to renewables.

Texas Utility Doubles Large-Scale Solar, Says It Will Be Coal-Free By 2016

The utility signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with the massive Macho Springs solar plant in New Mexico, a 50 megawatt (MW) facility with the capacity to power more than 18,000 homes. According to the agreement,signed last year, EPE would buy solar power from Macho Springs for 5.79 cents a kilowatt-hour — less than half the 12.8 cents per kilowatt-hour average price for electricity from new coal plants, according to Bloomberg.
Investments like EPE's gradually work toward lowering price of clean energy. While this is encouraging news, renewable energy remains—for the most part—more expensive than fossil fuel energy. And anyway, no matter how far the price of clean energy drops, we can’t suddenly stop burning fossil fuels, right now, today. We can't have cheap and clean energy right now, today.

Put aside, for a moment, the question of whether we can afford to keep polluting the Earth. Can we afford to push for a faster transition to cleaner energy? Or is cheaper more important, at least for now?

Being an old fart, I can remember gas stations on all four corners of every busy intersection in town, all selling gas for 29¢ a gallon. They’d pump it for you and clean your windshield and check your oil while you waited. If one guy lowered his price by a penny, he'd have cars lined up around the block, and pretty soon a “gas war” would start. In a few days, gas all over town would be 19¢ a gallon.

By the seventies, we were screaming about gas costing 50¢ a gallon! But we paid. We bitched, we made adjustments, and we paid.

Then came the so-called “energy crisis” and the so-called “oil shortage.” Gas prices skyrocketed to a dollar a gallon! We griped, we adjusted, and we paid. For about twenty years, the price of gas stayed around a dollar a gallon, give or take 30-40 cents.

Today, fuel efficiency is one of the first things we look at when we buy a car. We car-pool. We take shorter vacation trips. We try to time our fill-ups to when the price goes down to $3.50. Some of us walk more, or ride our bikes more. We know, deep inside, that gas prices are less about "supply and demand" or "fair market price" and more about what the market will bear. We’re pretty sure we’re getting taken to the cleaners. We gripe about it, but we adjust, and we pay.

When it comes to paying for our energy, price is no object.

No matter what kind of energy we’re talking about, and no matter how high the price goes, we pay. We all individually make our own personal adjustments, we get more energy-efficient, we get over it, the economy gets over it, and we all keep on going—no matter how high energy prices go.

Personal and individual adjustments to dirty air are few. Wear gas masks? Stay indoors with the windows shut? Don’t breathe so much? Hardly any of us need to make such drastic adjustments yet, but sometimes some of us do. Maybe we all do but don’t know it yet.

I favor doing everything we can to speed the transition to clean energy because—in my opinion—price matters less and clean air matters more.

Which brings back that question I brushed aside earlier. Can we afford to keep polluting the Earth? How much does that cost?

I am thoroughly pleased that state and local governments and small utilities like EPE keep working to speed the transition in spite of federal hindrances and in spite of influences from the likes of ALEC and Americans for Prosperity. I am thoroughly pissed that this transition gets so much hindrance and almost no support at the federal level.

The primary target of my pissed-off-edness is Fred Upton, Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Upton and his committee are doing everything they can to keep the price of dirty energy low and the price of clean energy high. His committee is where the big-money dirty-energy business goes to get its favors and where clean-energy initiatives go to die. Upton and his committee work to keep their colleagues from having to vote against clean energy. If your Congressional Representative has a great idea for helping the transition to clean energy, it doesn’t matter. The idea will most likely die in Upton’s committee.

Please help speed the transition. Petition Fred Upton to either stop promoting dirty energy and lead the transition to clean energy, or else retire. More specifics on the case against Upton here.

Originally posted to Bruce Brown on Tue Jun 17, 2014 at 02:24 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS and Community Spotlight.

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