The true electric bill


When state and industry gamble with electricity prices, one thing will fall by the wayside: An understanding of a sustainable use of energy.

People in Viktoria protest against Australia’s “dirtiest” power station Hazelwood. 2010 Takver

Australia has turned it’s back on energy transition. That is not too surprising if you know that its soil holds ten percent of the world wide coal deposit. Burning coal is still the cheaper option. Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently made his point clear: “We have to accept that in the changed circumstances of today, the renewable energy target is causing pretty significant price pressure in the system.“ And further: “Cheap energy ought to be one of our comparative advantages.“

If the economy suffers, we all have to suffer

Tony Abott is not alone with this opinion. The discussion about energy transition is violent also in other countries. It would be just too expensive, critics say. Germany‘s “unfavourable“ development is munition for their arguments. Endless subsidies for renewable energies would boost electricity prices. This would hurt the economy and at the end all of us.

Energy transition was a bad idea – it is not really worth the effort. But that is only a half-truth. because fossil fuels and nuclear energy is also subsidised. And by far longer and even higher than renewables. An article by the German newspaper „Die Süddeutsche“ in october 2013 gives an idea on how high it is.

The “true” costs won’t appear on the electric bill

The interim communication sheet on energy subsidies in Europe says that 35 billion Euros were spent to promote nuclear energy in 2011. Concerning fossil fuels, officials estimated a total of 66 billion Euros. For a comparison: Subsidies on renewable energies in the EU make up about 30 billion Euros. These numbers disappeared in the final version of the paper. They were „not verified“ and therefore erased, says a EU official, cited by the Süddeutsche. Other numbers are not available.

One may take these numbers as facts or not, but the question about the true costs for energy arises nontheless. To light a bulb in Europe for four days non stop costs less than a bag of gummi bears. 150 litres of crude oil cost less than a night in a mid-range hotel. It is a world where it doesn‘t matter if the light burns throughout the night, if the mobile gets charged the hundredth time or if a hoover has about 1,400 watts power (the energy a man needs to run 90 miles). The true costs won‘t appear on the electric bill. They find an expression in nuclear waste disposal sites, in Fukushima, in polluted air, in particulates and also in not so beautiful wind turbines. It is not only that others will suffer the consequences of our use of energy one day. We suffer from it already. And that is not only at tragic events like the explosion of a nuclear power station or an oil platform. The EU-Commission estimates that in 2010 alone, 400,000 people in Europe died because of the consequences of polluted air.

Pioneers of the energy transition are left alone

Whoever thinks the EU will do everything now to end polluter’s business: unfortunately not. In mid January 2014 it decided on the new climate and energy goals 2030. It can be called a turn-back on energy transition in Europe.

Untill 2030 carbon dioxide emissions shall be reduced about 40 percent (compared to 1990). The commission admits that this goal will be reached, even if EU member states won‘t implement any further measures on CO2 reduction. In the original strategy – the 2020 climate and energy package – member states should have increased the modal split of renewables to 20 percent. The new strategy sets the mark on 27 percent but is not binding and now regards the EU as a whole. This will put pioneers like Germany in a tough position if other countries refuse to carry the costs of energy transition. If energy efficiancy was a concrete goal in 2020 – in the new paper it became a victim to “current policies“ (point 3). The big energy companies may have poped bottles, because: To consume more energy means to sell more energy.

It is not us who will profit from cheap energy. And by far not our environment. Subsidies for energy projects are important. They help new ideas to take shape. But the consequences of long term low prices on all energy forms are hard to measure in money. It is about time to think of the true electric bill. The cheapest kilowatt-hour is still the one not consumed.