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Consumer choice, flexibility key to dealing with rising electric bills

New federal environmental rules, transmission upgrades and reliability guidelines likely will increase electricity bills in the next few years, but consumers can benefit from technology and energy efficiency, panelists said at the Governor’s Energy Conference in Oklahoma City.
by Paul Monies Published: September 4, 2014

Giving Oklahoma consumers more choices for how and when they use electricity will help soften the effects of federal environmental rules that are expected to increase their bills, several energy executives said Thursday at the Governor’s Energy Conference.

The conference, at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, featured several panelists discussing existing and proposed federal environmental rules and their effects on the energy industry and consumers.

“Energy efficiency is going to become a critical goal as we move into the future,” said Brian Hobbs, vice president of legal and corporate services for Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, which generates electricity for 22 electric co-ops.

Hobbs said Western Farmers helped industrial customers install more efficient lighting systems and is targeting geothermal systems for residential heating and cooling. Those efforts and others like them will help lower demand for electricity.

Walmart Stores Inc. has established corporate goals to increase the amount of renewable energy used by its stores worldwide and implemented energy efficiency targets, said Kim Saylors-Laster, Walmart vice president of energy.

Saylors-Laster said Walmart pays attention to its energy consumption because higher electricity costs means higher prices for its customers. Ideally, she said Walmart would like to buy energy directly from renewable generators, something forbidden in many states.

“I would just encourage policymakers to really open up the opportunity for consumers to have more choices in their supply from a renewable energy perspective, to open it up to allow consumers to do deals directly with developers of renewable projects,” Saylors-Laster said.

Most of the panelists said the Environmental Protection Agency was aggressively formulating new regulations for water, carbon dioxide and ozone without taking into account the effects on consumers.

“One of the biggest challenges is this over-reaching in federal regulations that are one-size-fits-all and don’t take into account urban and rural differences and the differences between investor-owned utilities and co-ops,” Hobbs said.

It’s not just environmental rules that are driving higher electricity costs, said Carl Monroe, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Southwest Power Pool. Updating transmission infrastructure and meeting reliability guidelines also ends up on customer bills.

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by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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