Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Why Energy Policy Matters

If you own an apartment or a home you know what how it feels to pay utility bills. As a student living with your parents or in a dorm where your utilities come as part of the package, you don't appreciate how much things like electricity really cost you.

Or how necessary it is.

Imagine if you had to live without electricity for one week and I don't mean that silly 'Earth Hour', where people turn off their lights for an hour. I mean, shut off your refridgerator, freezer, don't recharge your cell phone, don't turn on your computer, for a whole week. Could you reasonably survive?

With most of your bills, if you were cut off, it would not harm your standard of living much. If you can't pay your cable bills or satellite bills, its not a big deal. If you can't pay your internet bills, its an inconvenience. If you can't pay your phone bills, its extremely inconvenient.

But if you can't pay your water or electrical bills, your standard of living will suffer dramatically and will likely threaten your health.

So we are absolutely dependent on electricity, no matter what happens or how much it costs, we need to have it. More so than even gasoline. But cheap electricity can give people, especially the working and middle class the ability to provide a standard of living close to or equal to the upper class in many ways. Both the rich and the poor use electricity to preserve food, provide heating or cooling, enjoy entertainment, enable communication and access information in remarkably similar ways. For example, while a working class family may have a cheaper television than a richer family, both televisions require electricity (some more than others) to provide entertainment.

On the other hand, expensive electricity affects the working and middle classes more than the upper class. The upper class will always be able to afford electricity in order to provide the comforts to which we all are accustomed, even if the prices were to soar to three or four times the current values. The upper class might cut back some, turn the heating on lower, set the A/C higher in the summer, buy more energy efficient televisions and so on. Generally, they would carry on their lives as they normally do, with only some minor adjustments. But the lower classes don't have that luxury since they are generally already extremely careful with their electricity use. For middle and lower class families, the choices become more serious as they must weigh what "luxuries" they can do without and whether they need to invest large sums of money that they might not even have replacing older energy-'inefficient' appliances. And even if the increase is not that drastic, any increase in electricity costs removes money that middle class or lower class families might have been able to spend on other items, like say, clothing or food.

That is why I strongly advocate for energy sources that provide cheap and reliable electricity. Its an effective means of assisting class mobility, its good for the economy and provides a standard of living that is unmatched in our history.

That's why energy policy matters so much to me.

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