Access to Electricity: Luxury or Right?

WrongHanded

Active member
Note: I tried posting the same thing in 'Musings' but it's waiting for approval for some reason. So I'm trying here.

Most of you probably know that the polar vortex and subsequent frigid temperatures have caused power outages on the Texas power grid. This has left millions without electricity when they need it most, to fight off the extreme cold. I want to know what you guys think about access to electrical power.

If we work under the concept of the free market, when providers fail to meet demand, that's just how it is. People may just have to go without, and that's their own personal problem.

But given how essential electrical power is, do people have a right to access it? Providing an individual can pay the asking price, should access be assured?

What do you think?
 
Last edited:

Howland937

Active member
If a person decides to build a house in the middle of nowhere, 5 miles from the next nearest dwelling, is a power company obligated to provide them service?

I guess the rub for me is that power companies in most areas are the only show in town. People don't get to shop for the best price or best service like internet or cellular service providers. They want power, they have to buy it from "X". So, to me it does feel different than the typical free market enterprise...meaning it doesn't feel like a free market at all honestly.
 

WrongHanded

Active member
If a person decides to build a house in the middle of nowhere, 5 miles from the next nearest dwelling, is a power company obligated to provide them service?

That's a great question. And I can't say the power company (any power company) should be obligated to provide the infrastructure. Then again, if the country has zoned the property residential, perhaps they should be responsible for providing grid access at least to the closest county road access.

And whilst that is an interesting point, I'm thinking more of existing structures which already have grid access. It seems like the system is Texas is very competitive, but not as regulated as other regions on either of the other two grids. Is that okay, or should something change? It's a pretty substantial humanitarian crisis there right now. And I'm not sure this possibility was completely unforseen. I kinda feel like American Citizens expect and deserve better than to be literally left in the cold and dark because private business doesn't feel obligated to ensure what is now considered an essential service.

See what I mean?
 
But given how essential electrical power is, do people have a right to access it?
This shell game? Really?

"Rights" are freedoms from constraint that the government may not infringe upon. The right "to keep and bear arms" requires that the government not prevent you from doing so; it does not mandate that the government give you anything (of course, the government has nothing to give, it only takes and redistributes).

When you misuse the concept of a "right" to imply an obligation that someone else needs to provide something for you, the cost climbs through the roof and quality goes to shit because the competitive market's been distorted by intervention. Witness Education (especially secondary) and Healthcare.
 

WrongHanded

Active member
This shell game? Really?

"Rights" are freedoms from constraint that the government may not infringe upon. The right "to keep and bear arms" requires that the government not prevent you from doing so; it does not mandate that the government give you anything (of course, the government has nothing to give, it only takes and redistributes).

When you misuse the concept of a "right" to imply an obligation that someone else needs to provide something for you, the cost climbs through the roof and quality goes to shit because the competitive market's been distorted by intervention. Witness Education (especially secondary) and Healthcare.

Okay, so let's say "guarantee" instead of "right" if you really want to get pedantic about it. Because that's not the point.

Is electricity an essential resource? If so, should there be an expectation that interruptions to service are simply unacceptable? Should the government elected by the people take measures to ensure that essential services, and established access to them, are protected against interruption?

Or conversely, is it okay if private companies fail to provide essential services during emergency situations because they were not obligated to design and protect their private systems for extreme events?

This disaster is a pretty big deal you know. Private companies were left to do free market things, and they failed to provide when people needed it most. Is this the fault of the companies or the government? Or does the responsibility rest on the shoulders of the individuals currently suffering, for not being independent and self sufficient enough?
 
Last edited:

theotherwaldo

Well-known member
I don't know if I have a right to electricity - but I DO know that I have the right of access to services that I am paying for unless there is a solid reason that those services cannot be provided.
This last arbitrary four-day "rolling blackout" crosses the line, in my estimation... .
By the way, the idiotic way that the providers flipped switches on and off almost caused my place of business to catch fire!
 

WrongHanded

Active member
I don't know if I have a right to electricity - but I DO know that I have the right of access to services that I am paying for unless there is a solid reason that those services cannot be provided.
This last arbitrary four-day "rolling blackout" crosses the line, in my estimation... .
By the way, the idiotic way that the providers flipped switches on and off almost caused my place of business to catch fire!
That really sucks! Have you at least been staying warm?
 

Howland937

Active member
Should the government elected by the people take measures to ensure that essential services, and established access to them, are protected against interruption?
Isn't this issue really similar to the discussion/finger pointing after some of the California wild fires and hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico? We've run into it in Ohio a few times with ice or severe storms. 2 weeks without electricity over Christmas and New Year's a while back.

Understandably, certain parts of TX don't normally deal with the type of weather they've recently had. It's hard to prepare for something so unprecedented (see Covid-19). In my estimation, it isn't currently the Government's responsibility to see that those services are foolproof.

My current electricity provider doesn't require a contract like cell service or satellite. I pay the bill when it's due, based on my useage in the last billing cycle. If it was a contractual basis, then I'd feel they breached the contract by not providing the services for the entirety of said contract.
 

WrongHanded

Active member
Isn't this issue really similar to the discussion/finger pointing after some of the California wild fires and hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico? We've run into it in Ohio a few times with ice or severe storms. 2 weeks without electricity over Christmas and New Year's a while back.
I don't know. Is it? If so then I suppose the issue is not an isolated one.

Understandably, certain parts of TX don't normally deal with the type of weather they've recently had. It's hard to prepare for something so unprecedented (see Covid-19). In my estimation, it isn't currently the Government's responsibility to see that those services are foolproof.
Let me stop you there. A global pandemic such as Covid-19 was not unprecedented. It just wasn't. Neither are freak weather events of all kinds. And whilst we can certainly say it's not currently the government's job to ensure those services are foolproof, the question is should it be?

My current electricity provider doesn't require a contract like cell service or satellite. I pay the bill when it's due, based on my useage in the last billing cycle. If it was a contractual basis, then I'd feel they breached the contract by not providing the services for the entirety of said contract.
I see. So you'd be okay with your access to mains electricity being cut off right now, for an indefinite period, because you aren't on a contract? I don't think you would.
 

bummer7

New member
This is an interesting question.
Maybe I am wrong but I was under the impression local utilities are granted a monopoly by the government to serve a given marketplace or geographical area. In return for this monopoly business, the utility company is supposed to provide a level of service determined by the government and the utility for the benefit of the area and the population being served. Granted customers don't have a right to the utility or electricity. On the other hand, customers just can't go elsewhere for their electrical power either.
 

Howland937

Active member
I don't know. Is it? If so then I suppose the issue is not an isolated one.


Let me stop you there. A global pandemic such as Covid-19 was not unprecedented. It just wasn't. Neither are freak weather events of all kinds. And whilst we can certainly say it's not currently the government's job to ensure those services are foolproof, the question is should it be?


I see. So you'd be okay with your access to mains electricity being cut off right now, for an indefinite period, because you aren't on a contract? I don't think you would.
So maybe "unprecedented" wasn't the best descriptor. Since very few people are still alive who experienced the last global pandemic, maybe you'd prefer it be called an anomaly? Obviously uncommon to the point humanity as a whole was woefully unprepared. About as prepared as the power companies in Texas were for a debilitating winter storm?

And no, I wouldn't be ok with losing power. Is anyone ever really ok with it?
Just stating that my interpretation of the current situation is that there's really nothing I can do when it happens. But no, I don't think it's time for the Federal gov't to take control. Perhaps they could come up with standards that have to be met?
 

WrongHanded

Active member
And no, I wouldn't be ok with losing power. Is anyone ever really ok with it?
Just stating that my interpretation of the current situation is that there's really nothing I can do when it happens. But no, I don't think it's time for the Federal gov't to take control. Perhaps they could come up with standards that have to be met?
There's nothing any of us can do about such things as a blackout. But clearly, protections could have been put in place and weren't. More nuclear power plants would be a good start. I don't think the Feds should take control as such, but I believe having standards that are enforced would go a long way. Texas was unfortunate in its grid isolation in this case (though in other situations it could prove a benefit). As other plants in southern states failed - because they were on a larger grid - plants in states farther away were able to pickup much of the slack in supply. In this case, that wasn't possible for Texas.

So maybe "unprecedented" wasn't the best descriptor. Since very few people are still alive who experienced the last global pandemic, maybe you'd prefer it be called an anomaly? Obviously uncommon to the point humanity as a whole was woefully unprepared. About as prepared as the power companies in Texas were for a debilitating winter storm?
Anomaly may not be a poor choice of words. However, given that extreme weather anomalies seem to be becoming more frequent, I personally think we should expect more such occurances in the future. Maybe heat waves in Alaska, etc. Time will tell.

As far as the case for living memory goes, that's what history is for. We write it down and send the information into the future. And from history we can (if we choose) avoid repeating our mistakes. Not planning for a global pandemic because the last one happened 100 years ago is like not preparing for the invasion of a foreign military because it hasn't happened in living memory.

On the other hand, when the government prepares for a catastrophic scenario by spending hundreds of millions of dollars (or however much it take), taxes payers go nuts about pointless spending on things we don't need. Take the ventilators that Cuomo didn't buy in New York: if he'd bought them when there was no need, people would have complained; when there was a need, they complained he didn't buy them when he could have. So when a disaster happens and the government is unprepared, they get blamed for being asleep at the switch. It's a tough call.

We could say it's on the individual to prepare for themselves, but we're not going to see an emergency generator and fuel reserve in every home. Most people don't even have themselves covered for 72 hours in the case of a natural disaster. Then they expect the government to help in the moment with supplies they don't have. And yet an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.
 

wiscoaster

Active member
To answer the OP, I think you're posing the wrong choice. Electricity is neither a right nor is it a luxury. It is a service; a service you have contracted to have provided to your for a fee. You pay your fee you get your service. If your service is not provided according to contract then you have an issue with your service provider. Unfortunately, your service provider is a public utility whose fees are regulated by the state and then in return the state gives them certain protections from competition and liabilities for certain interruptions in service that can't be predicted and avoided by normal service provisions. It's an exemption called an "Act of God" and as such they're absolved from being held responsible and legally and financially responsible for your loss of service due to such causes of service interruption.

If it was possible to provide electrical service without a single-provider distribution network then provider competition would be possible and utiltities wouldn't need to be regulated as monopoly public utilities and they also wouldn't need to benefit from any exemptions for non-provision of service.
 

WrongHanded

Active member
To answer the OP, I think you're posing the wrong choice. Electricity is neither a right nor is it a luxury. It is a service; a service you have contracted to have provided to your for a fee.
This is a fair point. And I agree with. The purpose of the OP really wasn't about choosing between those two extreme options, but I was hoping to have some discussion on the subject of essential services and expectations of access to them.

So, I admit that bringing up the terms "Rights" with you guys was a bad idea. But let's move past it.

You pay your fee you get your service. If your service is not provided according to contract then you have an issue with your service provider. Unfortunately, your service provider is a public utility whose fees are regulated by the state and then in return the state gives them certain protections from competition and liabilities for certain interruptions in service that can't be predicted and avoided by normal service provisions. It's an exemption called an "Act of God" and as such they're absolved from being held responsible and legally and financially responsible for your loss of service due to such causes of service interruption.

If it was possible to provide electrical service without a single-provider distribution network then provider competition would be possible and utiltities wouldn't need to be regulated as monopoly public utilities and they also wouldn't need to benefit from any exemptions for non-provision of service.

I could be wrong but I'm pretty sure (based on what I've been reading) that Texas has so little regulation regarding electrical power that it's not uniformly a public utility, and competition on that grid is certainly possible. However, such an economic environment can result in providers cutting corners and doing the bare minimum to ensure profits, rather than ensure the continuation of service. And I'd be willing to bet some people who lost power, were buying power from a plant that was still fully operational, but they were in the wrong zone of the grid. Whilst others who bought power from a plant that failed, were in a zone that was kept on and so saw no disruption of service.

But I understand that in some places power is a public utility and options are limited, as you say. However, in the case of municipalities who run their own grids and buy power on behalf of their residents, there are fewer options for the individual, but perhaps more protections too.

All that's still not really got anything to do with my point though. Electricity is essential to our modern society, isn't it? It's woven into the basic operations of daily life, correct? So is it acceptable to our society as a whole to have it fail in such a major way? And if not, what can be done about that? We certainly have the technological ability to make the power grid more reliable.
 

WrongHanded

Active member
This is an interesting question.
Maybe I am wrong but I was under the impression local utilities are granted a monopoly by the government to serve a given marketplace or geographical area. In return for this monopoly business, the utility company is supposed to provide a level of service determined by the government and the utility for the benefit of the area and the population being served. Granted customers don't have a right to the utility or electricity. On the other hand, customers just can't go elsewhere for their electrical power either.

Sorry, I missed this post earlier. Texas appears to be unique in this regard. They have a grid that is all but separated from the other States. And I believe this is to avoid federal regulation, amongst other things, and allow competition. That speration is the reason that plants in other States couldn't cover the shortages in Texas. The lines connecting the Texas grid to the other two grids in the US aren't designed for that much juice.

But as I was hinting at in a previous post, if enough power plants fail and production cannot meet demand; where you are and not who you buy from, will determine if you lose power. When supply fails to meet demand, someone makes a decision and turns off an area of the grid. That is how the real electrical demand is cut so that brownouts don't occur and infrastructure doesn't get damaged from lack of supply. If the area that gets switched off is where you are, then you lose power. It doesn't matter who you're buying from.
 

Reloadron

New member
There's nothing any of us can do about such things as a blackout. But clearly, protections could have been put in place and weren't.
While I never considered myself or my wife preppies I would consider living in Florida and owning a generator prudent. I live here in NE Ohio and it's cold and bitter during the winters. The older I get the more I dislike cold and dark.

While I do not consider power delivery a right anymore than I consider any utility delivery a right I believe in also looking out for myself and not relying on a government be it city, state or federal. When I met my wife about 34 years ago she was providing home care for her mother who was pretty much in a vegetative state. Years passed and more and more medical equipment came into the house as I sat here thinking if we have a power outage we are screwed. The ventilator was good for max 20 min on internal battery backup. The O2 concentrator had no backup so we have to switch to bottles of O2, the list goes on. So I bought generator. Just a little gasoline powered 5,000 watt unit. More than once that paid off. When we did major home renovation I added a whole house auto transfer unit. That is natural gas fired but I still have the little old unit.

What happened in Texas and is happening never should have happened. The idea being it never gets as cold as it is that far south. My heart goes out to those people but it demonstrates just how fragile not just the Texas Power Grid is but the entire US grid system.

My view is never ever depend on the government for anything and no, power delivery is not any kind of a right.

Ron
 
Okay, so let's say "guarantee" instead of "right" if you really want to get pedantic about it. . . Should the government elected by the people take measures to ensure that essential services, and established access to them, are protected against interruption?
It's not pedantic, and you're still hiding the pea under that shell.

You can't have a right to have a resource, no matter how essential, provided or guaranteed. That's not a right, it's an empty promise of a handout.

And no sane person would want the government involved in providing anything that could possibly be obtained any other way. Governments, all of them without exception, are obscenely inefficient at everything they do; that's why government involvement is inversely related to prosperity.

This disaster is a pretty big deal you know. Private companies were left to do free market things, and they failed to provide when people needed it most.
No they haven't. Your Power Co doesn't offer 100% reliability, never has, never will, and no adult is even slightly surprised by that. If you believe 100% uptime power is vital to your survival, buy it.

You'd be just as successful asking your Congress Scumbag to guarantee your right to not be in a car accident.
 
Top