• Ed Flattau

Price and Principle

Practicing what one preaches can be easier said than done, even for an avowed environmentalist, who in this case happens to be me. My electricity bill presented an unsettling challenge to what I thought was my unassailable “green” commitment.

I had prided myself on a switch from coal to cleaner natural gas as the energy delivery system for my home. My decision led to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions associated with global warming, a result consistent with my environmental values.

But to stay environmentally friendly, it appeared that I could not stand pat. I was contacted by my distributor with an offer to have all my energy needs fulfilled by 100 percent renewables, namely solar and wind. Battery storage would provide service when the “wind don’t blow and the sun don’t shine”.

It was certainly a solicitation that appealed to my better nature, especially when the offer’s flier touted pollution-free energy that would “ensure a better environment for future generations.”

There was just one aspect to give me pause. Other than highlighting a low introductory price, the distributor was vague about the fluctuating monthly charge for the service. His only clarification was not especially reassuring as he conceded the tab would be higher than that for conventional energy sources.

In an attempt to allay any fears of company price gauging, the distributor attributed the variability of the monthly bill to projected consumer usage rather than any upward rate spike.

The uncertain rate fluctuation made me hesitate, but the appeal of contributing to the greater good won out.

Upon reflection, I was not alone in my equivocation over green affordability. A recent poll found that while an overwhelming majority favored buying environmentally-friendly products, two- thirds of the respondents indicated that cost took precedence over ecological idealism. They would only go green if the purchase price was the same or less than the conventional alternative.

That attitude is an obstacle that society will have to surmount to achieve sustainable prosperity. The pathway is through evolutionary widespread participation in green consumerism that will lower prices through the economy of scale.

In the meantime, there is some comfort for those able and willing to bear the high initial costs of green merchandise.

For example, solar energy’s price has declined 88 percent over the past decade and will likely continue that trend as storage battery technology advances. In addition, solar consumers can take solace in recovering their initial investment and then some when amortized over time.

That cycle delivers a powerful message. Short term sacrifices that produce long term benefits generally are more rewarding to both society and the individual than immediate gratification at the expense of long term hardship. Occasional pain for gain is a philosophy much in need for the challenging years ahead.


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