Dan Cook: Fools such as I

By By Dan Cook

It has been decades since anyone accused me of naiveté. Now, I must shake a stiff finger at myself and declare, “I charge thee!”

With what?

With stupidly believing that spending tens of thousands of dollars to save energy would at least stabilize, if not reduce our utility bills. I did not take into account that the utilities are publicly traded corporations, from whom Wall Street analysts demand, “More, more, more!”

Witness their current call for a 17 percent rate increase to perform “maintenance” that any diligent management would have been methodically doing all along.

Over 20 years ago I bought what was essentially a leaky, drafty, business building in Hurricane. Uninsulated, bare brick and cinderblock walls inside. Irreparable central air conditioner. Rusty, stinky gas furnace.

Now the building is tighter sealed and better insulated than the best “high efficiency” refrigerator. There are only 40 square feet of glass in the walls — all double and triple pane and well-curtained. The ground floor front contains a lovely gallery, meeting room and office with its own electric heating and cooling unit. The back part, used for printing and wood and metal working, has a high efficiency gas furnace.

We live in an all-electric apartment on the upper floor, front. Behind it, our art studio and print-making facility also has an ultra-efficient gas furnace. When any area is not in use, we neither heat nor cool it. I turn the gas off at the meter March through October. We are stingy with the A/C — it is never below 80. We have dimmer switches on most “screw-in” incandescent lights which quintuple life, and many are on timers. We long ago installed those damnably expensive eye-straining spiral bulbs in many places. We have not added, in fact have mothballed, sold or junked many electricity-consuming devices. Yet, our utility bills have gone up and up.

The past 12 months, our total gas consumption was 14,000 cubic feet. Our cost per 1,000 feet was $37.98. So much for the government (state or federal) or the gas company “rewarding” those who go on money-spending and personal inconvenience extremes to save energy.

Every September, I estimate and pay our electric bill a year in advance, based on actual bills for the past 12 months. It’s worth the peace of mind. In 2012, when “trapped” overseas for three winter months by a collapsed lung, we gratefully did not come home to burst pipes. Does the power company give us a discount for paying a year in advance? No. But they unfailingly will charge a penalty if you don’t mail payment a couple of days BEFORE the due date. The Public Service Commission allows them to impose outrageous “late fees” to recover their supposed “collection costs.” Why do we conscientious consumers not get a discount for saving them money and the advance use of ours? Why do I have to add about $400 to the power company check every year?

The answer is, because, every kilowatt-hour of electricity or cubic foot of gas that we save theoretically reduces the utility companies’ revenue, getting them bad marks from stock analysts, potential investors and the TV stock market jabberwockies. It is not acceptable to that crowd for utilities to settle for a reasonably profitable year, albeit from less gross revenue. The “investment experts” demand they “make up” the “lost” revenue and forever deliver “more-more.”

There are two ways to do that — substantial business and population growth in their market area — or gouge the existing captive customers.

That 17 percent increase request tells us their choice for West Virginians.

Dan Cook is an author, artist, inventor and native West Virginian who remembers when his parents paid a $3 electric bill every other month.

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