Wednesday, February 21

Jacksonville Can Save Billions With One Clever Switcheroo

I think this is perfectly legal for Jacksonville to do, and it's an idea that could save the city billions of dollars over the next generation. Actually, it's so clever that someone will try to stop it from happening, so me writing about it is kind of dangerous. Except I can't get anyone in local government to answer emails, so I guess the internet gets to benefit from my ultimate brainstorm about JEA.

I actually think selling JEA on the surface is a terrible idea, at least I did until I came up with a couple billion reasons why it's not. No, it doesn't matter how much the utility is worth. What matters here is how much we can get as a city and what we're allowed to do with that money. Let's say we sell the electricity component of JEA for $2 billion. Everyone in government will want to feel like we just won the lottery, but you have to remember that a large percentage of lottery winners go broke, mostly because those people do not know how to spend and invest a large surplus. When has our local government ever had to do this, either? I figure Jacksonville would go through money faster than a lottery winner who's addicted cocaine and gentlemen's clubs. But there's ONE perfect investment we can make with most of the proceeds from JEA, and it's going to surprise you.

Politicians are trying to figure out how to get their hands on the money from selling JEA, even the ones who are against it. This isn't really greed as much as pragmatism. Everyone I've heard discuss it has talked about a savings account this or payout to customers. But all of the spending or saving solutions seem to miss a clever possibility: we're about to make money from selling off a utility--what if we use it to buy a utility?

I recently read about something that would be perfect for Jacksonville and its residents: localized power stations/emergency generators that can be tied into the main power grid AND solar power from residents. Can you imagine what we could have here with a several million dollar initial investment in basically taking ourselves off the grid that we're selling off for that same money? I'm not talking about JEA going back into the power business. I'm talking about power walls and power packs (or similar). The money goes into free financing,  forgivable loans, or even grants to homeowners who buy into a new grid that will compete AND enhance the current system. Tesla has been contracted to do something like this in a city in Australia, and it looks like Nova Scotia. But it could be a competitor, too. The idea is localized power that can be stored in each neighborhood, either through purchased electricity from the new utility company (booo!) or from solar panels installed on homes (hooray!). Solar panels made right here in JAX?

The advantages of this system are clear: localized power that can last a week during outages with the ability to generate most of that reserve from the sun. When the hurricane hits again, each subdivision or city block has at least one reserve power unit ready to offer electricity. When no hurricane is in sight, the power can be used to lower electric bills for residents. The only think left to figure out is the specific benefits for the people who invest or allow their homes to be used. Maybe it's free installation and use of surplus generated. Maybe it's a system where the community pays the power bills for those who own the reserve. I'm sure the other cities doing this have some sort of solution in place. The point is that we can create a grid that is much more stable and that uses free solar energy, all while sticking it to the new power company that will plan on yearly rate hikes.

I don't know if any of our politicians are savvy enough to come up with this idea on their own, but it's a classic bait and switch. We bait the big power dinosaur with the prospect of taking over a large metro area with its new power monopoly, and then we use the company's own money to switch to a better, more reliable, cheaper, and greener system. I'm fine with JEA being sold if half the money is then put back into this kind of investment. I would love to see the boardroom of the big power company when each neighborhood solar grid starts selling power back to the provider. I'm sure the company will subtly encourage lawmakers to stay out of the way, but we the people of Jacksonville can force the hand of our politicians here. This is our chance to really be the bold new city of the South.

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