Solar Doublethink

Joe and Linda Skinner’s column in Monday’s Free Press was very entertaining. Included with their usual repartee was a discussion about the concept of Doublethink, which is one of the more insidious ideas to come out of George Orwell’s masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four. Luckily, I don’t own or depend upon an Amazon Kindle, and still have access to the copy that I read in middle school.

The Skinners brought up what they thought to be some present-day examples of doublethink in action. These included:

Doublethink is illustrated by the person who plans on leaving their assets for others to be eligible for Medicaid financed nursing home care, while railing against all government programs.

They also asked for anyone else who had ideas to let them know, so here’s a quick reply:

Those who privately scorn the homeless and downtrodden, while publicly espousing Christian values.

Before I get too off the track here, there is one issue that threw me for a loop over the weekend that just might fit into this niche. Xcel Energy, as part of its latest rate increase request to the Colorado Public Utility Commission, is proposing to levy an additional fee on the owners of solar energy systems that are also connected into the electric grid. This setup is called net metering; electricity produced by the solar array can be sold back to Xcel, turning the meter backward, and offset (or in many cases exceed) the amount of electricity the user draws from the grid.

Xcel is trying to spin this as if it’s about fairness to the rest of us on the grid who can’t afford, or for some other reason can’t take advantage of solar right now. The obstacles at my house are two large trees to the south, and roofing that is approaching the end of its useful life.

KMGH in Denver had some excellent coverage of the issue. Some really basic questions and collective scratching of heads has followed the initial reports of this, such as:

  • How are solar users having their “access to the grid subsidized” when in many cases those users sell more electricity than they use back to Xcel as excess capacity?
  • Is this less about any possible “freeloading” that solar users may engage in down the road, or more toward discouraging large-scale future movement toward a consumer-produced resource that can’t be easily commoditized? Some suit at a desk in Minneapolis is probably saying to himself, “What about all those coal futures we bought?”
  • Sure, Xcel has promoted solar energy rebates; how can you not in Colorado and be seen in the proper political light? Now they’re getting worried; continued improvements in solar technology are slowly driving the costs within reach for a greater segment of the population, and not just in the household installations. The first cell phones with embedded solar cells are starting to come to market; what will the dent be if a lot of charging devices for personal electronics start to disappear from the grid?

Now the doublethink equation is starting to come into play. Xcel wants people to go solar; just not as many people as could go solar, and threaten the grand business plan of the corporation, whatever that plan may be. So let’s just try to attach an artificial premium to energy self-sufficiency.

There are lots of arguments floating about as to why Xcel is behaving stupidly in asking for this. The most pervasive one for me is the potential impact that widespread future use of an increasingly cost-efficient technology, with surplus energy being put back into the grid for collective distribution, will have on the environment and our ability to achieve more cooperative and responsible energy consumption as a society. And we can’t have that…

War is Peace..Freedom is Slavery..Ignorance is Strength.

The PUC hearing on Xcel’s request is in Denver next Wednesday, August 5, at 4PM.

Have a great day.

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