Seeing around the corners (aka the Arkansas 2016 Energy Forecast)


duane highleyAs a kid, I had a kind of spyglass with mirrors inside that allowed me to peek around corners. I had a lot of fun using this to outsmart my brothers as we played pranks on one another. Today, I guess you’d just use your cell phone camera, but in 1969 one could really have a lot of fun with mirrors.

Seeing around the corners of life is a little bit different. We all want to see the unknown and predict what is coming, but that’s not always easy. As the great baseball philosopher Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Looking around the corner, the color forecasters at Pantone have boldly predicted the color of the year for 2016: rose quartz and “serenity,” a kind of light blue. Together they remind me of a well-worn baby blanket.

Rose quartz? I thought we left that behind in 1985! I guess I was too hasty when I put those mauve-colored knit ties in the garage sale. But maybe not; the Benjamin Moore paint company is taking a different approach and predicting — white, just white. Uninspiring, yes, but safe, and you don’t have to change your wardrobe.

Across this country some folks are going to make a decent living predicting the outcome of the 2016 presidential race. I won’t predict the outcome of that race, but I will predict that about half of the predictors will be wrong.

Some say it is hard to predict our energy future. I say, not so much. We actually know quite a bit about our energy future. Here are my predictions for 2016.

• Lower heating costs as gas-based energy displaces coal. Current low prices for natural gas will allow natural gas-based electric generation to displace coal, historically one of our lowest-cost generating resources. Our current worldwide surplus of natural gas and oil production is driving prices down. As a cooperative, we immediately pass these savings on to you, which means lower costs to heat your home in 2016.

• New wind and solar energy projects. Prices for wind energy from Kansas and Oklahoma are now competitive with fossil fuels, and your electric cooperative has contracted for additional energy from wind farms coming on-line in 2016. When complete, over 10 percent of your energy supply will be based on wind. Combined with the output from regional hydroelectric projects, almost 18 percent of your energy will be generated from wind, solar and hydroelectric power sources. Solar energy is becoming competitive with fossil fuels in sunny, high-cost states like California and Arizona, and as its cost continues to fall, it is starting to become competitive for certain applications in low-cost Arkansas. With the recently extended 30 percent federal tax credit for solar investment, I predict that you will see more utility-scale solar projects in The Natural State before year-end.

• New energy efficiency options. The cleanest kilowatt-hour of energy we can supply you is the one we never have to generate. As non-profit cooperatives, we work for you. Since we are not in this business to profit, we want to help you save money on your electric bill. The energy experts at your local electric cooperative are developing new ways to assist you in finding those savings. Give them a call to find out what’s available.

We may not be able to predict every change that’s coming from around the corner, but we can already see that these major energy trends are going to help us meet our goal of making your electricity ever cleaner while keeping it affordable. I’m not ready to go back to mauve, but I predict that none of us would mind an energy bill that looks a little bit more like 1985.