Positive Externalities Exist

Positive Externalities Exist

Ed Dolan recently posted on his blog: “Why do we Need Government to Tell Business to be Energy Efficient?”  .

Of course, I wouldn’t blog about it if there wasn’t something I could highlight.   Thanks Ed for the inspiration to write something – I have had bloggers block.   The first issue to comment on is the following:  

“…stopping government subsidies that make the prices of some inputs artificially low. For example, without subsidies to corn farmers and ethanol blenders, we would use less corn ethanol in our automotive fuel. According to most studies I have seen, less ethanol would mean a more efficient fuel mix.”

The thing here is that Ed is not relating the context of why the subsidies in ethanol must occur.  Clearly every action is not about efficiency or even energy itself.   It is a balancing mechanism – though not the best – for the subsidies that occur in several middle east countries for petroleum.   In those countries their citizens are paying a fraction of the world market prices.   As Ed should know those areas are also seeing one of the largest growths in petroleum demand.  We have seen an unprecedented price rise in petroleum prices in such short time period.   The cure for high prices has been high prices.   However if the areas observing the greatest growth for petroleum do not see the high price signal then the responsibility for the demand destruction lies on economies like the US.   Our continued purchases of the high prices support/subsidizes them.   Without stronger trade restrictions, a subsidy on what we produce the most and what the rest of the world needs makes sense;  in this case it is corn.  In essence the US is swapping food for oil to balance out the trade and price discrepancy issue.  It is not perfect, but until we come up with a better way, I wouldn’t want it to go away.

“…fixing government policies that allow businesses to take resources without paying for them. Promarket economists like my early mentor Murray Rothbard have long argued that pollution is a form of “taking” via uncompensated harm to other people and their property. That means harm to people and property owners who live downstream or downwind from a specific factory or power plant, and in the case of some pollutants, it means harms that are felt even more widely, even globally….Look at it this way: A business owner is like a dog owner. Just as the burden of cleaning up the dog’s poop is the owner’s responsibility and becomes part of the cost of owning a dog, the harm that pollution does to downwind residents and property owners is a both a moral and an economic responsibility of the businesses”

This thinking has become very common – the values of externalities need to be incorporated into the price of energy.  However most people assume externalities are only negative value.  I will agree there are negative values for downstream/downwind people who are not directly consuming the energy – e.g. particulate matter.  However even the downstream/downwind people are seeing positive value ,even though they are not directly consuming or paying for energy.   What are those values?  

Societal stability through economic prosperity.  As complicated as tracking negative externalities, there is a complex web for tracking positive externalities.  I will state a few potential examples.  Because the upwind region has local energy to consume, though potentially polluting to downwind. Their ability to use the local resource limits the population from migrating downwind and potentially causing instability through crime, disruption of supply/demand of other resources, etc…  Also there is value that the upwind region is consuming a source of energy.   If they did not consume the local source of energy they may demand the source that the downwind region is using.  This will likely cause economic harm to the downwind region particularly if the upwind region has more capability to buy the resource.   There are numerous examples I could come up with among the numerous examples discussed for negative value externalities.  

The value for the negative externalities is as real as those of the positive externalities.  And how to value each of them is complicated.   The dog poop example Ed brings up really doesn’t work unless you add more reality to the situation.   The caveat could be: by allowing the dog owner to have the dog,  you are reducing your chance,  the owner would be a grumpy and potentially go postal on you one day.   Therefore potentially an occasional poop missed is worth the trade-off on not allowing him to have a dog because he doesn’t always clean up.  There is some level of pollution that balances the trade-off.   What that balance is becomes very variable and will depend on the situation and societal choices.   Ed does note at the end: 

“to safeguard the integrity of energy pricing we can use government fines, or pollution charges, or taxes, or whatever you want to call them. So much per ton of SO2, so much per ton of carbon and so on. Yes, in some philosophical sense, that is a second best, a less elegant solution than one that internalizes all pollution costs through voluntary contracts and the enforcement of property rights. Yes, it is hard to get the prices just right. But I see it as the best hope we have for making our planet cleaner, healthier, more sustainable and–importantly–more efficient.”

However society needs to know all the facts not just the negative side of things.  In Ed’s article, he  did not balance the negative externalities with the positive externalities.  How will the price ever be close to being “right” if we don’t have a comprehensive dialogue’s of both the pros and cons?

I take pride in making sure I take a 360 perspective.   One always needs to challenge one’s own thinking to make sure all bases are covered.  If you are looking for an unbiased well-rounded perspective on energy issues please, consider contacting All Energy Consulting.

Your Energy Consultant,


David K. Bellman


Southern’s Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative (“GPASI”)

Southern’s Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative (“GPASI”)

Southern’s Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative (“GPASI”) has been making headway among the renewable press with much praise. However, as we all need to recognize the devil is in the detail and depending on your perspective; this may or may not achieve what you desire. I know many people do not have time and we depend on our journalists. However, every now and then, one needs to check on the thoroughness of the journalists. I went ahead and downloaded the complete filing.

Southern has done a fine job getting ahead of the mandate. In fact, this is what most utilities should strive for. In essence they have pre-crafted the legislation in a more intelligent way than any lobbyist or legislature could have done. The have covered the basics of dealing with cost, the associated fees of solar, taken care of performance concerns, and made it clear how they plan to recover their cost.

Key statements: “We do not intend to build or own solar facilities as part of this GPASI program…. Georgia Power will earn no profit or return.”

These are noble statements from the local utility. In order to make such bold statement, they must be anticipating the volumes not to be worthy of a return. However it is a large enough cost threat that it would be nice to guarantee cost recovery. In this area Georgia Power did a great job outlining the cost and hassle of solar power and making sure the responsibility and the cost will be borne by the developers.

Cost Capping

Key statement: “Each RFP will require bidders to bid a “not to exceed” price of 12 cents per kWh, the calculation of which will include a capacity benefit that will be benchmarked to current market pricing obtained in the 2015 RFP in Docket No. 34218” “Under the Small-Scale option, purchases will be for a fixed energy amount at a levelized solar price of 13 cents per kWh for a term of twenty years”.

They have set a price cap for the solar. I believe this figure will be hard to meet. By getting this level approved ahead of time, they won’t have to deal with projects being forced to reduce their cost structures.

Ancillary Cost (Headaches of solar)

Key statements: “…bidders will be required to pay a fee of $0.25 per kW bid to participate in the RFP to help defray the program costs.” “Bidders will be responsible for the cost of all metering to be installed, owned, operated and maintained by Georgia Power and would be required to provide performance security”. “Costs to interconnect will be provided to the bidder and are the responsibility of the bidder.” “Each bidder is required to make separate applications to interconnect to the distribution or transmission system. Participation in the RFP does not initiate interconnection activities.” “Georgia Power will make it clear to every bidder that the bidder is solely responsible for ensuring the technical, regulatory and financial viability of its project.” “The Company will install metering for the Participant’s solar facility. The Participant will enter into a contract with the Company to cover all incremental metering (e.g. poly-phase meters, trans sockets, dual-gang sockets, etc.) and interconnection costs. Additionally, the Participant must pay the monthly metering cost for the facility.”

All the statements above deal with the headaches of a solar mandate. They are attempting to stop the developers using a shotgun approach by charging a fee to participate in the RFP. All the nuisance costs of installation will all be on the developer including the meters and interconnections.


Key statement: “If Participant’s monthly capacity factor is less than 10 percent, Participant must make necessary adjustments or repairs to improve the monthly capacity factor to greater than or equal to 10 percent. If the monthly capacity factor for any four months within a calendar year is less than 10 percent, the Company has the right to terminate this agreement.

“If the capacity factor is greater than 20 percent, the Company has the right to inspect the facility to ensure its applicability. Due to the limitations of current solar photovoltaic technology, if the monthly capacity factor is greater than 20 percent in a second month, the Company may ask the Participant to explain the greater than 20 percent capacity factor. If the reason does not justify a capacity factor greater than 20 percent in the Company’s reasonable discretion, the Company may consider the resource to be in default and has the right to terminate the agreement.”

Solar performance and any lack of consistency is now the responsibility of the developer. They are essentially forcing them to perform the needed maintenance (window washing). In addition they are dealing, ahead of time, with some of the shady business practices like running other generation through the meter.

Recovery Method

Key statement: “Payments for energy purchased through this program are a recoverable fuel cost of the Company”.

This makes it clear how they plan to recover the cost. It will be on the fuel cost component. This is a very crucial point because most of the plans developed by legislature do not make that part clear.

In the end, I expect everything outlined would reduce the amount of solar that would have been done if it was legislated. Now that ALL the cost and fees of connecting and operating solar is to be paid by the developers, it will be hard to produce significant volumes within their price caps. So for those pro-renewables folks, I suspect they might not be too happy. For the utilities around the country, this is a great starting point to make sure all the headaches around solar are not yours and there is a clear cut method of recovering your cost.

I have many years of experience in evaluating various technologies, planning, and developing an integrated resource plan. If you are looking for some insights or additional points of view into future technologies or power markets, please consider contacting All Energy Consulting.

Your Energy Consultant,

David K. Bellman