Wednesday, August 6, 2008

And Yet, Gas Prices Are Dropping

Amid all the discussion about energy policy in the last few days, one fact has been overlooked by virtually every single media outlet save CNN: Gas prices are dropping.

Today’s AAA Fuel Gauge Report puts the national average at $3.86/gallon for regular. Three weeks ago it was $4.11/gallon. That’s a 25-cent drop in just three weeks.

What happened? Did we open ANWAR to drilling? Build some new oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico? Have we drilled one new well or built one new refinery in the past three weeks?


How can that be! To listen to Big Oil’s supporters, the only way we can lower gas prices is to drill more at home. You know, this kinda pokes a hole in Newt Gingrich’s ”Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less” balloon. Because we’re paying less and we haven’t drilled one new drop.


Bob Herbert put his finger on it in yesterday’s column:
In addition to the obvious need for more fuel-efficient vehicles, we should be demanding more efficiencies from utilities across the country; we should be requiring (as Senator Schumer has been pointing out) that states revamp their commercial and building codes; and we should be trying to weatherize homes from one coast to the other, including the homes of families without enough money to make such improvements themselves.

And, of course, there are the everyday good energy deeds that would help make a world of difference: car-pooling; taking public transportation when possible; using more efficient lighting; dropping the thermostat a couple of degrees; buying more efficient appliances; unplugging appliances that aren’t in use, and so on.

Prompted by high gas prices, Americans have already implemented these “everyday good energy deeds.” And it’s one of the main factors leading to this 25-cent drop in gas prices in just three weeks.

Look what we did without even trying, without even thinking about it. Imagine if we did think about it. Imagine if we decided to go after this “low hanging fruit in our economy”--the huge amounts of energy we’re just throwing away on a daily basis because of inefficient power plants, low-fuel economy automobiles, and the like.

No one is really talking about this, and there’s a reason. tapped into it with last week’s excellent article, "Why we never need to build another polluting power plant”:

Suppose I paid you for every pound of pollution you generated and punished you for every pound you reduced. You would probably spend most of your time trying to figure out how to generate more pollution. And suppose that if you generated enough pollution, I had to pay you to build a new plant, no matter what the cost, and no matter how much cheaper it might be to not pollute in the first place.

Well, that's pretty much how we have run the U.S. electric grid for nearly a century. The more electricity a utility sells, the more money it makes. If it's able to boost electricity demand enough, the utility is allowed to build a new power plant with a guaranteed profit. The only way a typical utility can lose money is if demand drops. So the last thing most utilities want to do is seriously push strategies that save energy, strategies that do not pollute in the first place.