6:28:14 Pacific Power's Wily Ways

You would think a large electric utility like Pacific Power, which operates in the Northwest, would have a fairly simple and open approach to its customers, me included. (Pacific Power is one of our two electric utilities (the other being PGE) that divides up the city market.) I say simple and open because the Northwest is blessed with abundant hydroelectric power: cheap and nonpolluting.

The first inkling I had Pacific Power was not a corporate straight-shooter was when, several years ago, I first got inserts with my monthly bill urging me to sign up for "blocks" of Blue Sky renewable energy sources (wind, solar, wave, and biomass). You'd go to street fairs and often there'd be a Pacific Power table with Blue Sky banners and pamphlets urging everyone to do the Right Thing, guarantee a sustainable future. (The logic of how the designated renewables--wind, solar, wave, and biomass--trumped conventional, nonpolluting hydroelectricity, however, was lost on me.) It was understood that the customers doing the Right Thing would pay extra every month, but that would be offset by the psychic income of virtuous action.

[reddy kilowatt]

Despite this Pacific Power promotion that seemed to go on for years, I resisted changing my bill from 100% conventional hydro.

Was Pacific Power asking customers to subsidize what they had to buy anyway?

The answer is the Oregon Renewable Energy Act (2007) mandated utilities like Pacific Power must purchase 5% from renewable sources in 2011, 15% in 2015, rising to 25% in 2025. So whether I sign up or not, Pacific Power will buy wind/solar/wave/biomass energy. How could I feel virtuous subsidizing a corporation with a cost-plus business model that's better than my household! (A side note: Every state has "Blue Sky Laws" prohibiting sale of "blue sky" to the uninformed, an irony probably wasted on Pacific Power's PR.)

Now, Pacific Power is campaigning for customers to use two-way envelopes. The envelope the bill comes in must be opened with care so you can re-use the envelope--with a few origami-inspired moves--to mail your check payment back!

Not surprisingly, Pacific Power touts itself as a corporate supporter of sustainability, a savior of trees.

I sensed something different.

Could it be that reusable envelopes are a ruse, a disincentive for customers to pay by check? Pacific Power loves it when people pay online. That's a far, far cheaper transaction to process than paper checks, phone, or in-person payments.

So not to worry so much about renewable trees, I've passed on the reusable envelopes. My check goes in a #10 business security envelope that sets me back a whopping quarter cent.


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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

Also, a flash fiction, "Ylena Thinks Nyet," is at Cigale Literary Magazine.



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