Right now if you look up your zip code on a site like powertochoose.org, chooseenergy.com, or electricchoice.com you’ll likely see something like this:
I’d like to change that.
What do the following states have in common: Connecticut; Delaware; Illinois; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New York; Ohio; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; Texas; and Virginia?
In what way do all those states put Georgia to shame?
They all have some form of electric choice. The programs differ and none of them are 100%. But they’re all much closer to a free market and more accountable to consumers to that of Georgia.
All those states prove by their actions that something practical is very achievable.
In case you’re unfamiliar, electric choice is the general concept that consumers of electricity should have some choice in where their electricity comes from. Usually it means making a separation between utilities, who are in charge of the infrastructure and actually hook wires to your home, and providers who generate electricity (or obtain it from someone who does) and then sell it to you. The closest thing Georgia has is if you are a major industrial electric consumer (like a factory) you get one shot to pick your electric provider from a short list, up-front. And then if you ever want to change you need permission from the company you’re trying to drop! And if you’re a normal person? You get no choice whatsoever at any point.
In most of those other states I listed above it’s similar to the way we used to do long-distance telephone service before we were all talking on mobile phones. One company is in charge of servicing the basic hardware and getting your phone to work again after a storm, while another company provides another service connected to by that first company.
Why does this matter? There’s a few reasons.
Just as a matter of principle: it’s your money, you’re the one buying something, so whenever practical we should allow you to choose from whom you buy it.
It’s one fewer industry under state-granted monopoly. One fewer opportunity for the people of Georgia to be exploited.
It allows decisions to be spread out over 10 million people throughout, instead of 5 commissioners in Atlanta. It’s harder for that many people to make a stupid mistake. It’s much harder for that many people to be bribed (or whatever they want to call the legal version of bribery).
There’s a lot of complicated decisions involved in energy. Economics, both long- and short-term. The environment – wise use of our resources. Sustainability. Impact on employees in the industry. Relations with other states on the same grid. Some say this is cause for trusting experts, but the “experts” we’ve elected have proven themselves no better than anyone else. I say we put those with skin in the game in the drivers seat – you, the person paying the bill.
Transparency. Any such system will involve making lots of information available to the public that otherwise tends to get swept under the rug of small print.
With the added degree of freedom in the system, future improvements become more practical and achievable. In particular electric choice often lends itself to divestment along this natural boundary between utility and provider. This is an important step in the right direction.
So why wouldn’t we do it?
Those who want to protect the vested interests of the monopolists will try to claim there’s added efficiencies gained from vertical integration. In theory there may actually be a point there, but we can’t adequately assess that because we can’t trust any numbers generated internally by the likes of Georgia Power. And, of course, even if it were more efficient that doesn’t necessarily mean lower cost to customers. They could simply absorb those efficiencies through higher profits. Which do you think would happen?
If you believe in this vertical integration argument, I ask you why we have federal, state, local, and special-district governing bodies. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to abolish all that lower stuff and have those in Washington D.C. simply control everything? Maybe. But I know I wouldn’t trust them to do that, and I hope you’d eye such a suggestion with just as much suspicion. You get better stability, more choice in your community, and less disastrous effects from mistakes when you have checks on power and decentralization.
Now it’s true that one commissioner cannot force such a program to exist. This is normally done through the legislature. Or a power company could institute a program of some form of their own accord. I would actually prefer the latter, because voluntary action is preferable even at that level if we can make it work. My promise is not that you’ll certainly have this program in place if you elect me. My commitment is to work with the other commissioners, the power companies, and willing legislators to move in this direction.