[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com]
Lightning paced thriller writer
of International Intrigue
National Bestselling Author

Electric Shock
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2007


Photo Courtesy: Julie Zitin
[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com] If you are unhappy with the cost when you fill up at the gas pump, then get ready for more bad news. For the rest of this summer, make sure that you are well grounded, I mean holding on to a pole or railing for support, when you open your electricity bills. The bottom line will be well above what you paid last year, even for the same consumption. This trend won't end with summer. It will continue into the winter. In the short term, the culprit is rising natural gas prices. In the United States, almost twenty percent of our electricity is generated from natural gas. About the same for nuclear. Roughly six percent from hydropower, three percent from oil and fifty percent from coal. There are some other smaller components, but those don't matter much.

If we have a hot summer, which is being predicted, then utilities will make up their extra needed production primarily from natural gas. At the same time that weather forecasters are calling for a particularly hot summer, they are also predicting a larger than average number of hurricanes. Much of this country's natural gas production comes from off shore wells in the Gulf of Mexico. As we saw with Hurricane Katrina, those wells can be knocked out of service by hurricanes in the Gulf.

All of these factors are combining to escalate sharply the price of natural gas, which also supplies the home heating during the winter for much of the United States. These natural gas price increases will translate into increased electrical bills for Americans this summer.

This country is at the mercy of the natural gas market because we didn't have the sense to do what every other advanced country in the world did during the past three decades, which is to built nuclear power plants. As a result of the 1979 accident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear plant, our nation's nuclear power industry went into the deep freeze. The environmental movement, supported by public sentiment and unopposed by spineless legislators, took the country's power generating industry hostage. Regulatory requirements and construction costs added the final nails to the coffin of any future nuclear project in the United States.

The irony is that some environmental groups now realize that the best practical alternative for producing electrical energy is nuclear. To be sure, they would prefer solar or wind, but recognize the impracticality of those on a large scale. During these intervening twenty seven years, coal has become king in the United States. The environmentalists woke up to the fact that our burning of fossil fuels and particularly coal is contributing significantly to global warming. There are ways to scrub carbon from coal fired power plants, but it is pricy and will take time to develop. If we continue to burn coal, then this scrubbing technology is almost certain to be mandated by a federal government and state governments suddenly conscience of the global warming issue. The addition of this scrubbing technology will further drive up the cost of electricity.

As far as nuclear is concerned, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects applications for eleven new units for power plants this year and as many as 30 by the year of 2009. At the same time, electricity demand is projected to jump more than 40 percent by 2030, even assuming that there is no wide spread use of electrical cars. Again, these factors will drive up costs. Changing course and permitting nuclear power plants is certainly the right thing to do, but they can't be built over night. There is a considerable time lag between conception of a new unit and bringing it on line.

Thus, in the short term, we will not see increased electrical generation from nuclear. Also given the changing the political climate, no pun intended, we are unlikely to see much of an increase in the use of coal for electric generation. Hydro power is also fixed. This leaves us with natural gas and to a lesser extent oil. Quite apart from cost, it is a crime to burn natural gas, a scarce resource, for electrical energy, when it is needed for home heating. Burning oil for electricity drives up the cost of gasoline even further.

Not surprisingly, market forces recognize this country's predicament. That's why natural gas prices are surging along with oil prices and will continue to do so. We are unfortunately all paying the price for the lack of effective leadership on the energy issue during the past three decades.