The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on April 14, 2001 · Page 7
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 7

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Saturday, April 14, 2001
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THE SALINA JOURNAL SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 2001 A7 OPINION Tom Bell Editor & Publisher Opinions expressed on this page are tliose of the identified writers. To join the conversation, write a letter to the Journal at: P.O. Box 740 Salina, KS 67402 Fax: (785) 827-6363 E-mail: SJLetters® saljournal.com Quote of the day "You've got to know that no pilot intentionally takes his horizontal stabilizer and sticks it in the propeller of an EP-3." Donald Rumsfeld secretary of defense, insisting tfiat the collision of a Chinese Jet figher and an American surveillance plane was an accident all the way around. Time to speak up T THE ISSUE KCC hearings THE ARGUMENT Here's your chance '\he process of setting utility rates in Kansas is not exactly a democratic one. We don't get to vote. There is no applause meter. They won't even count the number of torches and pitchforks in evidence at Salina's Bicentennial Center Tuesday evening. But the people of Kansas do have some say in the matter. The Kansas Corporation Commission — an agency of state government created by the Legislature, with members appointed by the governor — has the final word on how much our electric and natural gas providers are allowed to charge us for their services. And the KCC, as is its habit, holds hearings to seek public comment on rate-increase requests, such as the one now proposed by the two utilities owned by Western Resources — KPL and KGE. It's complicated, but the rate hikes requested add up to $151 million. In the KPL territory, which includes Salina and most of northern Kansas, the plan would increase the average electric bill by $9.25 a month. The KCC staff has already reviewed the proposals, and Western's books, and determined that the two utilities together should not increase their income from customer rates, but cut it. In KGE territory, which includes Wichita, the KCC staff thinks rates are too high, and recommends that they be cut to the tune of $92 million a year. The staff suggests that rates should go up in the KPL area, but only by a fraction of what Western is asking for. While it is not, officially, the point, this staff recommendation would have the effect of softening the serious rate differential between KGE's customers, who are paying for the Wolf Creek Nuclear Generating Facility, and KPL's, who aren't. That's something Wichita has been screaming for for some time. Western, as you might imagine, is strongly opposed to the staff recommendation, and will lobby the three-member commission strongly for its full requested rate hike. Those lobbyists are skilled, knowledgeable and give it their all. But, Tuesday, they will have to sit down and be quiet for a while and let you talk. This is to be a formal, dignified public hearing. Be polite. Be direct. Be ready to shut up if there are others waiting to talk. Maybe $9.25 a month isn't much to get worried about. Maybe there's no point in talking about electric rates when it is natural gas prices — not the subject of this hearing — that have us all upset. But Tuesday's hearing, which begins at 7 p.m., is your chance to be heard. Speak now, or forever hold you piece. — George B. Pyle Journal Columnist • EDITORIAL NOTEBOOK The cheapest energy • CAN SHE SAY THAT? |he cheapest energy is the energy you don't use." This has become the mantra of those at a loss for what to tell the American public about its escalating cost. Whether it's gas bills here or electricity on the West Coast, energy consumption is a serious issue over which the United States has been willing to go to war over. As the nation moves into summer, air conditioners and vacation travel are going to exacerbate the problems. It's time this nation takes a step back and looks seriously at energy conservation. It's time to open the windows rather than turn on the AC when possible. It's time to keep thermostats set on reasonable temperatures. It's time for restaurants to install separate units so they don't have customers freezing at their tables while the kitchen staff sweats over hot stoves, and it's time for cinemas to realize their viewers are shivering in their seats. How many people have fallen into the habit of doing several Getting right down to the lick-log 'If we don't control the electric utilities, they will control us' B OULDER, Colo. — Here at the annual World Affairs Conference at the University of Colorado, the assorted experts from around the globe may sometimes be wrong, but they are rarely in doubt. This lends a happy, "But the emperor isn't wearing any clothes," simplicity to much of the discussion. Shibboleths are ignored, obligatory bows to those who are only partially informed are skipped entirely, and folks get right down to the lick-log. Thus, Harvey Wasserman, a longtime leader of the anti-nuclear move' ment, cutting to the chase: "Anyone who advocates nuclear power as a solution to our energy problems should be shut up in a padded cell." Wasserman can, of course, discuss the details of nuclear plant design, risk, insurance, regulation,, waste disposal, etc., ad nauseum. It's just that he'd rather not waste his time on the obvious. One session I attended here not expecting to learn much new (but it's always nice to have your prejudices confirmed) was titled "Our Fake Energy Crisis: What Really Happened in California." The aforementioned Wasserman waded in with a will, describing the dastardly tale of ruthless utility companies determined to unload the "stranded costs" of their monumental folly in building nuclear plants — $20 billion worth in California's case — on the ratepayers. Given that utility lobbyists literally wrote the California deregulation bill, it's quite a reach to blame it on anyone else. This is a familiar tale to those who have read beyond the basic coverage of the California situation. Wasserman tells the story well, with a fine contempt for the greed and stupidity behind it all and for the politicians now seeking coven But he presents a media mystery that has me stumped — one of those cases of the media overlooking the obvious so completely that one is bereft of a handy explanation. Some parts of California are not suffering from power problems of any kind. In Los Angeles and Sacramento, the lights are stiU on and the rates have not doubled or tripled. As it happens, the people of Los Angeles and Sacramento own their own power plants. This glaringly obvious fact has for some reason escaped media attention, except in paltfornia. • POINT OF VIEW small loads of laundry rather than wait until there's a fulj load? How many televisions, radios and light bulbs are left on when a person leaves a room or the house? How much tptal energy could be saved if every household conserved just a teensy bit? Are cars left idling? Do three people drive when one could have? Is there a serious thought about miles-per-gallon when purchasing a vehicle? There is much that Americans could do to conserve. Unfortunately, there is little incentive to do so. We complain when the price is high but we won't reduce our demand, Americans consume far more energy than any other nation in the world, regardless of population; most of it comes from non-renewable sources, driving the price higher As we move into the summer months, we have to remember that the cheapest energy really is the energy we don't use — both from the dollars in our pocket and in our responsibility to our world. — Ann K. Charles The Parsons Sun The history of how utility ownership and regulation came about is crucial to this story. Wasserman quoted a 19th-centu­ ry mayor of Cleveland, Tom Johnson, who said, "If we don't control the electric utilities, they will control us." As is often the case with business and government regulation, it was the utilities themselves that asked for regulation, knowing full well that they could easily dominate state public utility commissions. "Regulation" evolved so that utilities were permitted to make 15 percent on invested capital — a tidy sum. This lasted until the early 1990s, when wholesale prices fell, tempting the utilities into deregulation. They dumped the stranded nuke costs on the ratepayers and made a promise in exchange — no rate increases — which they promptly broke when wholesale prices went up. Ask the people of San Diego. The performance of the suppliers in this case — Enron, Reliant, etc. — is already the subject of public inquiry But the California utility companies were meanwhile shipping the recovered nuke costs to their parent companies. ("We're still checking the DNA on those parents," said Wasserman.) And then, in a truly sublime move, the major California utility gave its executives huge bonuses just before it went into bankruptcy. Wasserman's suggested solution is that Californians should simply get themselves out of the grid by setting up municipally owned power companies. In rural areas, this can be done by counties or electric coops. He believes that what held the old system together for so long was not government regulation, which was always blatantly subject to manipulation by the utilities (as anyone who has ever covered a PUC can tell you), but rather the tension between the for-profits and the municipals. In the current issue of Business Week, the cover story is on Exxon Mobil's plan to take advantage of the "energy crisis." This would normally be funny, given that Exxon is in the oil business and (as most people outside the Oval Office are aware), the oil business has nothing to do with electricity However, Exxon's acquisition of Mobil, which is rich in natural gas, unleashes a corporate behemoth of unprecedented size. Exxon also has a corporate culture that would give nightmares to "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap of business fame. Here are some interesting facts from the Rocky Mountain Institvite: The cheapest source of new electricity is efficiency; the next cheapest is burning soft coal, which is a gross polluter; and the next cheapest after that is wind power — 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour • Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Molly Ivins can be reached at 1005 Congress Ave., Suite 920, Austin, Texas 78701, or by e-mail at mollyivins@star-telegram.com. Networking opportunity up in smoke Kansans who aren't ready to answer tourists' questions cost us all money S ue was magnificent. The Tyrannosaurus Rex replica impressed hundreds of visitors at Fort Hays State University's Sternberg Museum of Natural History and dazzled our family of four It was clearly a good reason for the brood to venture 90 miles west for a day trip. Our stroll through the dome- style museum provided 2V2 hours of good times and good value. Great as it was. Hays lived down to Kansas' reputation on tourism, when a networking opportunity came and vanished on this beautiful spring day Sternberg proved to be wondrous, with its displays, some that interacted with visitors, tour guides and, perhaps most important to parents, things for ^ kids to do., A brigbtly lit souvenir shop displayed interesting and fun items for sale and far from Colorado-outrageous on price. The toys our kids purchased actually worked and still do. ' The adjoining restaurant was tasty and also affordable. Service was great and everybody smiled. If you're wondering who this is, Mr restaurant manager with fairly long hair, I'm the guy who bought the clip-on bow-tie. Only the eatery was where the tourism ball made an ugly thud as it was dropped in the leftover mashed potatoes. We asked our waitress, "So what else is there to do in this town, and what about the Hays area?" TIM UNRUH ne Salina Journal Hays has put together a winner hut, like Kansas, it will never totally cash in until we stop missing opportunities. She replied: "I don't know. I just moved here two weeks ago." That was understandable, we thought. It takes some time to learn. So we asked another waitress, who was clearing a table a few feet away Her response: "Well, there's that fort out there, and the mall. That's about it." I was surprised, that after two tries, we didn't learn more about Hays, and the university that is often packed with things to do. What about the German heritage, or the big Cathedral in nearby Victoria and other historic churches and towns? Or the Hays Aquatic Park gearing for its second season? Historic Fort Hays did get a modest mention. There's the Rattlers N Relics museum just off the main exit from Interstate Highway 70. Not far from town is Cedar Bluff Reservoir and the state park. Down the road is Wilson Lake and another state park. The Garden of Eden in Lucas is worth a short jaunt to the northeast of Hays. Why there are an "Amazing 100 Miles" of things to do between Hays and Salina. In fact, there's a group of folks who market their attractions under that name. Next to our table was another couple with two youngsters. They drove 6V2 hours from Independence just to visit Sternberg, and they too, were enlightened. But it was noon, and they were prospecting for more to do. Their responses from the restaurant help were also weak to empty I'm sure there were brochures in the lobby, but nobody pointed them out, or better yet, offered to snare one for us. Here were two adults and two kids willing to stick around and part with some more of their hard-earned money in the Hays area. Gas, food, candy admission to wherever, those greenbacks were destined for a cash register somewhere. With no leads, the mom indicated they were heading east, planning a stop at Rolling Hills Refuge Wildlife Conservation Center near Salina, and then home, likely not planning a return to these parts any time soon. Hays has put together a winner but, like Kansas, it will never totally cash in until we stop missing opportunities. This isn't meant to bag on one town or business. There are no guarantees that any restaurant experience in this state would yield tourist information beyond a brochure rack, or for that matter, a convenience store or one of the thousands of friendly locals who make this a great state. Kansans have pride, but not enough of us are touting this state's attractions. Organizations like the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce have recognized this void by offering familiarization seminars for these unsung community ambassadors. It should intensify Waitresses, hotel and convenience store clerks, even truck stop janitors, should be trained to know their areas and their state, and also be compensated for dispersing that knowledge. Memorization is not a requirement. Concealed in every apron should be one-page fact sheets about the area. Hays has invested a fortune in a tourist attraction that is well attended. Only on this day, there was more return to be had. • Reporter Tim Unruh can be reached at 823-6464, Ext. 137, or by e-mail at sjtun- ruh@saljournal.com DOONESBURY FLASHBACKS By G.B. TRUDEAU m iPfPNXHONaY, m-

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