Day: March 1, 2021

Community Aggregation, or Community Operation? Your Electric Bill Could Hang in the Balance

When it comes to your electric bill, consumers looking to change utilities, or use different sources of power, face limited choices.

To provide somewhat of an alternative, as well meet consumer demand for alternatives like solar and wind, many states have opted to allow local governments to purchase electricity directly, while still allowing utilities to control distribution, known as “community choice aggregation.”

But a 2019 change in New Hampshire law opens the door for something else: Communities acting as their own utilities. 

While utilities would still source and distribute power, local governments will pick the winners and the losers, removing that option from investor-owned companies. Every resident would be automatically enrolled, but with the right to opt-out.

These efforts have begun in nine states across the country, including throughout the energy canard that is California, where community choice aggregators serve over 10 million homes. New Hampshire, having passed a bill in 2019 to bolster these programs, is the latest state to join the trend.

Both consumer groups and utilities in New Hampshire have expressed support for price aggregation. But the 2019 changes to the law create issues that make it more difficult for consumers to start saving money.

And now, HB 315, a bill to clarify rules and make it easier for aggregation to begin, is being debated in the legislature.

The bill would ensure those who opt out of the program would not be responsible for additional costs as taxpayers, and removed requirements on net metering, which could reduce or increase energy access for consumers depending on energy use or the time of day. It would also define what costs utility companies like Eversource would have to bear if a community opted to take the role of utility manager.

For advocates of a community operation approach, this bill would thwart the more ambitious plans to seek alternative energy.

“HB315 would restrict our programs to a very simple 1.0 or Massachusetts model of community power,” said Madeleine Mineau, executive director of Clean Energy NH. “We’ve seen a lot of interest in the more advanced models and approaches to community power that can include managing a portfolio of energy supply resources, offering additional energy efficiency or demand response programs in addition to the utility programs.”

But does deputizing local governments to purchase energy mean more consumer choice and lower costs?

Eversource, the state’s largest energy provider, testified earlier this month at a committee hearing in favor of HB 315, arguing the existing law mandates expensive infrastructure changes throughout the entire electric grid— meaning consumers across the state would have to pay higher bills no matter what.

Though they support community power aggregation and have helped implement a similar program in neighboring Massachusetts, New Hampshire’s law significantly increases the cost of implementing these systems, which would effectively fall to consumers.

By having to update meters to two-way information sharing, reorient its grid pathways, and upgrade its customer billing systems to comply with the previous law, residents both within and outside community power areas would end up with higher utility bills as a result. The newly proposed bill, claims Eversource, would ensure consumers who opt-out, and taxpayers statewide, would not be stuck with higher costs.

And that may not be the only issue with the program as it exists, as other states demonstrate.

Rob Nikolewski, energy reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune, points out Marin County’s CCA, known as Marin Clean Energy, has engaged in “resource shuffling,” ostensibly buying green energy from hydroelectric sources, but ignoring their increased use of coal and natural gas.

report from the Voice of San Diego claims CCAs are well on their way to becoming monopolies in their own right, forbidding industrial and university customers from striking their own power agreements with third-party companies, as they have done for years.

And researchers from UCLA noted the regulations around energy in the first place will make it difficult to lower prices at all.

“Ongoing policy uncertainty regarding cost allocation between utility and community choice aggregation customers may limit the ability of community choice aggregators to offer competitive rates, which may threaten the model’s long-term viability,” said the authors.

If the goal is to allow consumers more choice in which power runs their heat and lights and how to lower costs, a better alternative might be in removing the heavy regulatory burden needed to maintain electricity suppliers, especially if these utilities will ultimately be providing the power regardless.

On its face, the degree of support for community choice power will depend on what local governments are truly aiming to provide, and if they are able to deliver. Do they want cheaper, more efficient electricity or do they want to hasten the transition to renewable alternatives?

At least in New Hampshire, the rules must be clarified so that unnecessary costs are not imposed on consumers in the form of higher energy bills, whether they opt for community power or not.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published here.

Britain must grant refugee status to Uyghur Muslims

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his ministers have offered aid to residents of Hong Kong, but the Uyghurs are being ignored.

It is now undeniable that the Chinese government is conducting a genocide in its northwestern Xinjiang province. At least 2 million are or have been incarcerated in a vast network of concentration camps. The harrowing testimonies of former detainees and guards detail starvation, systematic rape, torture, forced sterilization, and mass execution.

But even after both the Trump and Biden administrations stepped forward and declared that a genocide is taking place, the British government has refrained from showing the same moral leadership. This acquiescence of human rights has occurred despite a sustained campaign from prominent activists and opposition politicians. Johnson and his ministers also remain resolutely opposed to the legislative route to better holding Beijing to account. For some time now, the government has maintained a circular logic when it comes to legal declarations of genocide: It knows that China will never agree to be heard by an international court, but it insists that only an international court can judge it guilty of genocide.

Activists both within and outside of Parliament have responded by tabling the so-called “genocide amendment” to the government’s Trade Bill. This would solve the problem by empowering the English High Court to make the determination of genocide instead. But the government has repeatedly sought to quash the amendment. At one point, when members of Parliament looked ready to endorse the amendment, the government resorted to an arcane parliamentary procedure (and a touch of bullying) to block the vote. This triggered fury on both sides of the House of Commons.

For whatever reason, likely the fear of Chinese economic retaliation, the government is willing to abandon what should be sacred British principles of justice. But surely, Johnson cannot oppose the basic humanitarian step of recognizing the plight of Beijing’s victims and offering them a path to safety?

Allowing victims of appalling violence and persecution to seek refuge would be the least that a democratic nation like Britain could do. The government belatedly did something similar for residents of Hong Kong, who have also experienced the sharp end of the Chinese Communist Party’s instincts in recent months. A new visa route was opened, offering Hong Kong-based holders of a British National Overseas passport an expedited route to becoming citizens. The scheme has already seen considerable success, with the government at one point granting five passports a minute to Hongkongers.

The move to offer 3 million residents of Hong Kong an escape route was welcome. Still, we implore the government to extend its hand to the Uyghurs, who are also in need of urgent aid. As the Chinese government takes new steps with each passing week to tighten its comprehensive assault on the Uyghur people, such as receiving deported Uyghur dissidents from other countries, the situation is becoming exponentially more pressing.

A sense of urgency should also sustain in our deliberations. Given Xi Jinping’s staunch refusal to allow foreign experts and investigators into Xinjiang to corroborate its blanket denials of any wrongdoing, we will probably not know the true extent of its ethnic cleansing until it is much too late to do anything about it. In turn, it is infinitely better to risk offering refuge to a few more people than need it than to abandon an entire population to be tortured and killed at the hands of a brutal dictatorial regime.

Having traded with China for decades and contributed to its enormous wealth and political power (and turned a blind eye to its various human rights violations over the years), Britain owes a great debt to the victims of its atrocities. It’s time to start paying back.

Originally published here.

Jason Reed is the U.K. liaison at Young Voices and a policy fellow with the Consumer Choice Center. Jason also writes regularly for the Times (of London), the Telegraph, the Independent, and several other publications. (Follow him on Twitter: @JasonReed624.)

Without the use of nuclear energy, “environmental protection” is an empty word

What may seem strange in Germany is meeting with increased response in the USA from numerous start-ups, engineers, and doctoral students who are backing nuclear energy for environmental protection.

In the wake of the Fukushima reactor disaster in 2011, Germany phased out nuclear energy relatively quickly. While six nuclear power plants will still be connected to the grid in 2020, they will be shut down by 2022 at the latest.

Could nuclear energy also be seen as something positive for environmental protection? In Germany, that seems hard to imagine. A significant disadvantage of this electricity is the excessively long storage time for radioactive waste. If you care about the environment, it seems you have to simultaneously promote renewable energies, abolish nuclear power, and ignore the fact that this makes you even more dependent on coal energy. 

And this dependence comes at a cost – for the environment in Germany and Europe. About 80% of the still active coal-fired power plants in Germany violate EU directives on the limits of pollutant emissions from nitrogen oxides, mercury and soot particles.

The pollutants emitted do not only hurt Germany: Due to the high number of existing coal-fired power plants, Germany is one of the biggest air polluters in the European Union.

After the nuclear phase-out, the phase-out of coal-fired power is now to be finalised by 2038. However, there is a problem with this: bets are being made that renewable energies will fill the energy supply vacuum after the coal-fired power plants are shut down.

It is not always possible to plan particularly well over such a far-reaching period. And so far, Germany is still clearly reliant on running coal-fired power plants.

Instead of betting that renewables will completely fill the vacuum by 2038, or instead of continuing to rely on coal along with the associated air pollution, there is still an alternative: power plants that rely on nuclear energy and thus emit particularly few emissions of CO2 and other pollutants.

What may seem strange in Germany is meeting with increased response in the USA from numerous start-ups, engineers, and doctoral students who are backing nuclear energy for environmental protection.

Technological innovation for environmental protection: the example of TerraPower

One example is the TerraPower project, which has become particularly well-known in recent months thanks to Bill Gates’s support. TerraPower is trying to solve a problem often cited by critics of nuclear power with a new type of nuclear power plant design: Nuclear waste.

At first glance, this criticism seems plausible. Is it worth relying on a relatively clean form of energy like nuclear power if, in return, we have to live with radioactive waste – without knowing when and in what way we might get rid of it?

The so-called running waves and liquid salt reactors that TerraPower relies on exquisitely solve this problem. Unlike regular nuclear reactors, they accumulate depleted uranium, significantly reducing the resulting stockpiles of nuclear waste. This depleted uranium is already found in the inventories of existing nuclear waste – it is just not being used productively.

TerraPower estimates 700,000 tonnes of enriched uranium in the USA alone – just 8 tonnes of this apparent “waste” could supply 2.5 million homes with electricity each year. Globally, all the nuclear waste that already exists could be used to provide 80 per cent of the world’s population with energy for over a millennium. And this supply would take place at the level of an average US American.

In this respect, TerraPower solves one of the main problems associated with nuclear energy in an incredibly creative way: it is not just a matter of producing relatively little nuclear waste in the construction of new reactors. Instead, the existing nuclear waste serves as a kind of fuel – so it is used productively, and one gradually reduces the waste at the same time.

That the resource of nuclear waste will run out at some point also seems unlikely when one looks at the result of the above calculation.

TerraPower serves as an example here to emphasise one point: Like other technological approaches, nuclear energy can be continuously improved. Critics of nuclear power often refer to existing reactors, some of which are outdated. In doing so, they ignore the fact that problems such as nuclear waste can be solved in new types of construction. One should not make the rash mistake of altogether abandoning a clean and cheap form of energy. Relying on coal energy instead is not in the interest of the environment. Betting that the vacuum after the nuclear and coal phase-out can be filled exclusively by renewable energies is a risky bet.

Originally published here.

Preparing for the next virus

The Consumer Choice Center’s Fred Roeder and Maria Chaplia report on a recent event that looked at why the EU must safeguard intellectual property rights to prepare for future pandemics.

COVID-19 took its toll on millions of people and even more are suffering from the economic consequences of the pandemic. Instead of increasing our pandemic preparedness, we are seeing more and more populist calls, both at EU and Member State level, for the erosion of intellectual property (IP) rights, jeopardising the future of innovation. COVID-19 is likely only the first of many public health crises we will encounter in the next decades, and we need to keep innovators incentivised and provide them with legislative certainty. The EU has to commit to the protection of IP rights and champion it not just at home, but globally through EU trade policy.

Policies enacted during the pandemic have predominantly come as kneejerk reactions to issues on the ground, rather than well thought out plans. As we have witnessed in the case of lockdowns and trade restrictions, acting fast without considering long-term costs can be devastating. At a global level, that also involves continuous calls for the extension of the TRIPS waiver, a clause that would allow World Trade Organization members to lift protections on certain intellectual property rights.

Rushing such decisions could imperil entire generations. Safeguarding IP rights is our only chance to make it possible for patients who will one day be diagnosed with incurable diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Cystic Fibrosis, Diabetes, or HIV/AIDS, to ever be cured.

“There are simply not enough doses of vaccines, and the vision of the EU future should be not only green and digital, but also resilient,” Franc Bogovič MEP (SI, EPP)

European policymakers should put their pursuit of short-term approval from the voters aside and reconsider the role of intellectual property rights in preventing future pandemics and, overall, what could have been done better. This was one of the key questions of an online discussion between Franc Bogovic MEP and James Tumbridge, Common Councilman of the City of London, that we at the Consumer Choice Center hosted on 19 February.

Ridefair shows nothing is new under the rent-seeking sun

The sharing economy enables consumers and entrepreneurs to creatively and collaboratively use or lend resources they otherwise wouldn’t

In 1845, French economist Frederic Bastiat wrote “The Candlestick Makers’ Petition” and submitted it to the French Parliament. It called passionately on legislators to defend France’s lighting industry from “the unfair competition of a foreign rival” enjoying unfair cost advantages — the sun. Among the remedies the candlemakers proposed: the closing of “all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures through which the light of the sun is wont to enter houses.”

Bastiat’s clever letter, exposing the faults in protectionist arguments, is relevant again in modern Toronto. But instead of candlemakers versus the sun, it’s taxi companies and the Toronto Transit Commission’s labour union versus ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

Through their “Ridefair” campaign, the transit union and the taxi companies have teamed up to lobby the city of Toronto to further regulate ride-sharing to ensure the industry “operates in ways that protect our transit system.” Their claim is that ride-sharing has become so popular the TTC has suffered upwards of $74 million in lost fare revenue, which is more than what it loses to “fare evasion,” i.e. people treating their fare as optional.

This call for regulation would likely mean additional taxes on ride-sharing services that would be handed over to the TTC to help fund its revenue gap. In effect, this anti-choice coalition is complaining that ride-sharing is eating into its revenue and claiming that the only solution is to further regulate, i.e., restrict, ride-sharing. But this completely ignores why consumers choose ride-sharing over public transit in the first place. In a competitive market, increased competition usually causes other firms to re-evaluate their practices and focus their efforts on how to bring back customers.

Apart from more taxes, the other remedy they seek is to restrict ride-sharing by capping the number of drivers the apps can engage in the city. But this too is a terrible idea. When New York proposed a driver cap, consumer groups like the Consumer Choice Center and civil rights groups like the N.A.A.C.P and New York Urban League rightly pointed out that such restrictions disproportionately impact minority communities. Ride-sharing’s colourblind and route-blind call systems ensure that riders are not arbitrarily discriminated against, something that is all too common in the taxi industry, sometimes with deadly consequences.

By advocating for higher taxes and more restrictions on ride-sharing instead of making transit more consumer-friendly, Ridefair is practicing rent-seeking — the act of trying to increase one’s share of wealth without actually creating any new wealth. In layman’s terms, Ridefair is calling on the government to regulate in the TTC and the taxi industry’s favour because competition is eating into their share.

Originally published here.

February 2021


Happy first day of spring (meteorologically speaking)
I’m excited to share what we have been up to in February! 
Staff retreat in Dubai
The CCC team had a quick getaway in sunny Dubai for a staff retreat. Everyone got tested before and after the retreat and social distancing guidelines were adhered to. This was a great opportunity for the team to catch up and plan for a busy year ahead. We had very interesting sessions about campaigning, public affairs, and insights into policymaking from the partners of our organization. Our team took the Clifton team strength test and turns out our combined strengths do make up for a great team! And of course, we took some time to enjoy what Dubai has to offer and also took a short trip to see the sunrise in the desert. It was very cold but definitely worth it!
Watch the video here
ConsEUmer podcast 
Meat war, private hospitals, fake vaccines, new polish taxes – these are some of the topics that Bill discussed with experts from different fields on his weekly podcast. Make sure to follow the podcast not to miss the upcoming episodes.
Listen here
The Role of IP rights in preventing Future Pandemics
Senior European Affairs manager, Luca Bertoletti hosted a webinar about the role of IP rights in preventing future pandemics. Our guests Franc Bogovič MEP (Slovenia) and James Tumbridge (Venner Shipley LLP) debated on whether the protection of intellectual property rights actually biased towards the inventor or is needed to guarantee prosperity for all, on ways to incentivize innovation without IP rights, ways to improve EU healthcare, etc. 
Watch Here
Preparing for the next virus
Fred and Maria report on a recent event that looked at why the EU should focus on maintaining our justifiably high IP standards and abstain from supporting TRIPS waiver to prepare for future pandemics. They argue that based on the lessons from the pandemic, it is paramount that the EU develops a policy framework that fosters innovation as much as possible. 
Read Here
Fred made a guest appearance at the Bundestag’s Health Committee meeting!
Our managing director, health economist Fred testified in front of the German Parliament’s Health Committee on why patents on covid vaccine are important
Watch Here 
Michael Bloomberg and WHO- name the worse duo, I’ll wait
Michael Bloomberg is known for his love of taxes, bans, and restrictions, and being World Health Organization’s “Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries, gives him all the tools to expand the nanny state idea globally. Yael argues that WHO is focusing on all the wrong issues and billionaire’s nanny mission should be opposed as it creates problems for public health.
Read Here
The fight against the plastic ban continues
Climate activists are pushing the new Biden administration to declare full war on plastic. But David Clement is here to point out that rather than betting the future of our planet on costly and ineffective plastic bans, we should allow innovators and scientists to do their magic and come up with solutions to plastic waste. 
Read here
Best luxury hotels to sit out the global pandemic
The year 2020 was probably one of the worst for the global travel and tourism industry. Unfortunately, 2021 did not bring back travel as we know it: Ongoing travel restrictions, on-arrival quarantines, and dedicated quarantine hotels limit our choice when it comes to travel.We created this index in collaboration with the travel tech company Eddy Travels in order to suggest which luxury hotels are the best to stay in case you are either stuck in one country or who plan to sit out the pandemic in a hotel.
Read the Full Report Here
Save the Date for our Upcoming Webinar on March 3rd
How to safeguard competition in the EU digital market without putting brakes on innovation? How to strike a balance between the Commission’s investigation powers and platforms’ responsibility to not abuse their market position? We aim to bring together distinguished experts in the digital field to answer these and many other questions in order to brainstorm what would be the best way to regulate digital platforms.Here’s the list of our dear speakers-Eglė Markevičiūtė, Ministry of the Economy and Innovation of the Republic of Lithuania, -Kay Jebelli, Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA)- Svenja Hahn, MEP -Shane tews From American Enterprise Institute (AEI)As usual, the webinar will be moderated by Luca.
Register Here
Thank you for your attention, as you can see it’s been quite a productive month! We have a lot of projects in progress, so make sure to follow our social media to be the first to know about them!

Anna Arunashvili

Why a vaccine should cost 250 EUR: Penny-wise and pound foolish

Even if the EU would pay a whopping 250 EUR per dose and 500 EUR per resident, it would end up paying merely a third of what’s being earmarked for the recovery fund.

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