One of the terms that sticks with me from my college psychology classes is “cognitive dissonance.” Cognitive dissonance is the stress created when you try to hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values simultaneously, or are given information that conflicts with your existing beliefs, ideas or values. I think I’m so fond of the term because anyone who has ever worked for the government is confronted with this on a daily basis.
Take the latest word from the California Public Utilities Commission. It seems our efforts at energy conservation have been so effective that some folks are actually paying less than what it costs to produce the little electricity they use. In effect, they are being subsidized by the large consumers of electrical power.
To address this inequality, the PUC is proposing a new rate structure that will set a fixed monthly minimum charge and eliminate multiple rate tiers. The proposal also includes time-of-use rates where rates would rise with demand. This would return the rate structure to something similar to what it was before the energy crisis in 2000-2001.
The proposal sounds fair on paper until one considers the actual impact. Consumers who have implemented energy-efficient practices will see rates increase while heavy users will see their rates decrease. Incentives for conservation via rate tiers would be eliminated, potentially harming the burgeoning solar power industry and slowing the transition to clean energy.
It doesn’t help that public trust in the PUC is at an all-time low due to reports of mismanagement, lack of leadership, and cozy relationships with the utilities the PUC is supposed to oversee. Not surprisingly, those same utilities are strongly in favor of the new rate structure.
So this is a classic case of cognitive dissonance: encourage conservation on the one hand but reward those who don’t conserve on the other. Is your head hurting yet?