WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you’re in THE SITUATION ROOM.
You may have noticed the cost of electricity is rising along with seemingly everything else. Some experts are now warning the time may soon come when you won’t be able to get electricity, at least temporarily, at any price. Wow.
Let’s bring in Carol Costello. She is working the story for us. What’s going on with electricity?
CAROL COSTELLO: I know. Well, what’s going on, sounds depressingly familiar. High demand, not enough power plants, energy speculators, sounds a lot like the oil crisis, doesn’t it? But high electricity costs, and the high gas prices are doing a number on our economy.
COSTELLO (voice-over): You think gas prices are out of control? Get a load of what utilities cost these days. In Maryland and D.C., from 2006 to 2007, electric bills rose a whopping 46 percent in one year. The Hernandez family from Atlanta can relate. Their utility bill is also high.
JANE HERNANDEZ, ATLANTA GEORGIA: I think that we can give you a good visual.
COSTELLO: That’s the family’s vacation money. The Hernandezes are so strapped for cash, they raised that money in a garage sale so they could pay for a family trip to our nation’s capital.
HERNANDEZ: We’ve used these coins to buy drinks over there by the mall. We had one woman look at us because we gave our 50 cents in pennies.
COSTELLO: The reasons for skyrocketing utility bills, well, high demand is one. We’re using so much electricity, there’s barely enough coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants to keep up. In fact, within three years, experts say we will exceed supply. Leading to widespread power outages like those many who suffered through in 2005. Still, consumer groups say generating more electricity is not the answer.
DOUG HELLER, CONSUMERWATCHDOG.ORG: Every time we build a new power plant that uses gas or coal we’re ensuring that we are going to be stuck with whatever the futures markets are going to charge us for commodities.
COSTELLO: They say the answer to our power problem is part conservation and part regulation. Ten years ago, when the government deregulated utilities and allowed them to set prices for consumers, it was supposed to help consumers.
MARK CRISSON, AMERICA PUBLIC POWER ASSN.: That is an experiment that was intended to produce competitive rates and to incent and encourage the development of new transmission capacity and new generation capacity. But it simply failed to do that.
COSTELLO: And unless Congress steps in, that’s unlikely to change. After all, the industry is turning a profit. That leaves consumers like the Ponthier of New Orleans to take matters into their own hands. They were able to vacation in D.C. by doing without.
WADE PONTHIER, NEW ORLEANS, L.A.: We’ve tried to do everything we can to cut back on energy costs. You know, especially during the summer months. We have two air conditioning systems in the house, a two-story house. On a regular basis the kids will sleep downstairs so we can turn off the air conditioning system upstairs to save some money, save some dollars.
COSTELLO: A lot of people are afraid what’s going to happen when winter comes and you’re paying the high natural gas prices. Utility companies, by the way, say the sharp increase in price in the mid-Atlantic is due to rate caps that were in place because of deregulation. D.C.’s utility says if you adjust the rate to inflation, bills actually rose just 15 percent over five years.
BLITZER: It’s still all nevertheless very scary stuff.
COSTELLO: Oh, when you get hit with a bill that’s 46 percent higher one day than you’re used to paying, that’s tough.
BLITZER: Get ready for a tough winter for a lot of people.