Parker discusses need for energy efficiency

Published 1:05 pm Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Practicing energy efficiency: it’s the key to battling high energy costs and retaining resources for the future. At the same time, pursuit of renewable energy sources must continue.

That’s the message Susan Parker of the Public Service Commission shared with members and guests of the Greenville Kiwanis Club on Tuesday.

“These are tough times at the state, county and city level – and utility costs don’t make it any easier. All have gone up significantly in the last few years,” Parker said.

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On the PSC since 2006, Parker said she has visited everything from dams and coal mines to solar domes, tidal wave plants and liquefied natural gas plants to explore various sources of energy production.

“We have an energy crisis in this world. It cannot be created as fast as it is needed,” Parker said.

“China and India are eating up all the resources. The U.S. has built eight coal-powered factories in the past two years. China is averaging one per week.”

The law of supply and demand made costs for materials rise, and energy costs to skyrocket in turn.

While the public is currently seeing prices for such needs as gas for their vehicles coming down, Parker predicts that drop in prices won’t last.

“The economy will eventually rebound and we will see demand increase and with it, prices,” she said.

In response to consumers’ questions about why utilities have not dropped their charges in the wake of the recession, the commissioner said the power companies had already paid the higher prices, and now have to pay down the large lines of credit they had opened to do so.

“When their debts are paid down a reasonable amount, I think you will see some drop in their charges,” Parker said.

So what is the proper approach to the energy crisis?

“Increasing energy efficiency is the key . . . I’ve heard energy efficiency described as the fifth fuel,” Parker said.

“If we practice this, we will begin to reduce our demand and drive prices down.”

She said Pioneer Electric Cooperative is one of several groups in the state that received $1 million to help weatherize mobile homes.

“By replacing some of these old inefficient strip units in these mobile homes with more efficient units, the residents can often save 70 to 80 percent on their heating bills,” Parker said.

“This program is great for disadvantaged/senior citizens to help them save money and help us all save energy.”

In addition to practicing energy efficiency, investing in technology to move from reliance on coal and gas to renewable resources such as solar, biomass and algae, is also important, she said.

While using wind turbines as an energy source is a great idea in the western part of the nation, Parker said the lack in Alabama of the sustainable 30 mph wind they require makes it a less than ideal energy source within the state.

“If they can figure out a way to send this energy created in the west to residents in the east in an efficient and affordable manner, that will be great. But that’s not something that is going to happen tomorrow,” Parker said.

Nuclear energy is another route the commissioner believes should be pursued by the state.

“These plants are expensive to build, but cheap to operate . . . all these things are for down the road, but we can focus on efficiency now,” she added.

Parker said there were good and bad sides to the proposed economic stimulus package by the federal government.

“The good side is millions of dollars will be put into the economy to help stimulate energy efficiency and production,” Parker said.

“For example, the Pioneer Electric program would be expanded to the entire state to help with many more poor and elderly people’s energy costs and consumption.”

The down side, she said, “is the fact Alabama is going to face having a standard. We may be told you have to produce 15 percent of your energy from renewable sources by 2012. And we are disadvantaged. We don’t have some of the resources other states have. So we are asking for more time.”

Parker said she believed it was definitely a good thing to move toward using more renewable energy resources.

“But we have to move slowly, so customers won’t be hit along the way with exorbitant costs. We also need to get the government to agree to let us count our ‘old’ hydro energy if the western states get to count their ‘old’ wind energy.”

Parker said she has already launched a program touting the importance of energy efficiency in the schools.

“Think about how kids picked up on the importance of wearing seatbelts through education – now they can learn the importance of switching off the lights,” she said.

The PSC regulates everything from public utilities to certification of taxis, moving vans and limos in the state. Parker, along with Lucy Baxley and Jan Cook, make up the first all-woman public service commission in the history of the United States.