Energy Conservation That Works

October 03, 1991

Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.'s decision to buy power from an independent, non-regulated producer is a response to the increasing pressure on U.S. utilities to conserve. Instead of undertaking costly new construction to serve its growing market, BG&E is following a sensible course: reducing future outlays by encouraging energy conservation as well as purchasing, instead producing, the added power it needs. This should keep prices down for consumers in the years ahead.

Laws in Maryland and other states give utilities strong incentives to push for cutbacks in power usage. That coincides with world pressures on carbon dioxide production and with new environmental pressures from federal Clean Air Act revisions.

Coal-fired generating plants, such as those used by BG&E, are increasingly difficult to build. Gaining approval for a site is impossibly difficult due to opposition from environmental groups, neighbors and competing business interests. Additionally, the new Clean Air Act adds hundreds of millions of dollars to construction costs. Engineers must either add stack-gas scrubbers, or transport less-polluting coal from distant regions. Newer technologies, such as fluidized-bed, limestone-injection boilers or combined-cycle coal-gas power plants, promise up to 50-percent reductions in carbon-dioxide production and drastic cuts in other polluting gases. But the industry has yet fully to embrace them.

Independents that build smaller plants have fewer regulatory hurdles and less trouble from neighbors. Coupled with laws forcing utilities to buy power from independents when it is cheaper than building new plants, it adds up to a compelling incentive for utilities to curb expansion plans.

Since the gulf war, there has been heightened awareness of the need to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Not only does that reduce pollution, it helps the U.S. balance-of-payments deficit.

Maryland's utilities, like those of other states, are now mandated hTC by law to support conservation. State energy officials have embarked on an ambitious plan to reduce electrical use within government, chiefly by replacing energy-wasting lighting systems in state buildings. Their innovative approach uses co-funding by BG&E and other utilities, in exchange for the right to keep part of the savings in electric rates. The plan is to lower government costs and boost production of newer, more efficient electric lights, making them more attractive to ordinary consumers.

Such measures work. Subsidized high-efficiency lights and electric motors already have cut power usage in the Northeast and Southwest to the point that electricity prices are actually declining, instead of rising as analysts earlier expected. That bodes well for consumers, the economy and for the Chesapeake Bay environment.

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