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Our View: A contract with the past

Unless you’re one of the few people under the age of 20 who read something as low-tech as a newspaper, you’ll likely be dead by the time the Truckee Donner Public Utility District’s proposed power contract expires.

If you’re on the far end of the baby boomer spectrum you’ll surely expire before the contract does.

The difference between an old boomer, born in 1946, and a 20 year old today is four decades ” less than the contract the district will decide this evening.

Now think of all the technological advances that have occurred between the end of World War II and 1986 ” atom bombs, men on the moon, TV, satellites, personal computers, the Internet. And that’s just barely scratching the surface.

Who ” other than the most forward of thinkers ” would have thought 42 years ago in 1964, the young end of the boomer generation, that we’d have electricity generated by wind farms or electric-gasoline vehicles that get 40 to 50 miles per gallon.

So here we are on the edge of 2007 considering a 50-year contract that will tie our community to a coal-fired power plant. The burning of coal, the fuel that helped industrialize our nation at the beginning of the last century, is definitely an old-school resource that, depending on your science and/or politics, is a major contributor to climate change.

Even if the power plant we buy into is called state-of-the-art now, it won’t be built until 2012. What will the costs be to update it to meet tougher state and federal emission standards between now and then if need be? What about in 2022, 2032 or 2042? Those costs will be passed on to us, the ratepayers.

To think that such decrees won’t be coming down the road in the future is wishful thinking.

What happens when diesel and gasoline prices spike again? Transporting coal to its end use is often more costly than the mining process. How will those market and regulatory likelihoods impact the competitiveness of this contract ” a contract we’ll be locked into for five decades?

Our main concern, however, are the advances in renewable energy that will surely be made in that half century. When district board members change and staff members move on, how much of a ball and chain will that 50-year agreement be in attempting to take a greener ” or even less costly ” path?

Granted, district staffers argue that by going with the “low-cost” contract there will be an opportunity to use dollars saved to invest in renewables.

We’d venture to guess that an aggressive conservation plan for homeowners and businesses in Truckee (did you know such a thing exists?) packaged with innovative measures like a carbon offset payment option on ratepayers’ bills could free up and generate funds to help the district in its effort to go greener. If we’re worried about costly bills for those in need, how about a “life line” plan for ratepayers on fixed incomes?

Even with those things, we will have to go to the market for our power. But is this

proposed contract really infinitely more knowable than going with short-term contracts that leave the district able to adapt to changing times and technology?

That’s just another question on top of other questions ” all with 18 days to go before state law prohibits such contracts. Is such legislation not a red flag by itself?

There will be those who argue that striving for and using clean power for a good portion of our energy needs over the next decade or two is wishful thinking. We do not. As with the technologies that have changed the lives of baby boomers and 20 year olds alike, more will come.

We believe that in the not-too-distant future, a 50-year contract will only chain us to the past.


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