Obama trying to force power bills higher

Tens of millions of Americans are getting what President Barack Obama no doubt hopes is only a reprieve from his drive to force electricity prices skyward. Unless they recognize what is happening, however, Obama will succeed.

During his first four years in office, Obama used the Environmental Protection Agency to launch a plan to shut down coal-fired power plants.

At first, it appeared his timing was good. Utility companies already had closed or announced plans to shutter scores of coal-fired power plants.

Enormous domestic supplies of natural gas – the only viable alternative to coal for power generation – fueled the utilities’ decisions. Many announced they would replace coal-fired generating stations with gas units.

During Obama’s first term, use of coal to generate power plummeted. When he took office, more than half the power generated in the U.S. came from coal. By mid-2012 the percentage had fallen to 35.4 percent.

That occurred even as thoughtful critics of the president’s plan warned coal is, by far, the most economical way of generating electricity. In the 30 states where substantial percentages of power come from coal, the average price of electricity is 8.7 cents per kilowatt hour.

Evidence of coal’s role came this week, when it was revealed Wheeling Power customers’ bills will decrease by an average of $3 a month. Much of the electricity used here comes from coal-fired generation.

It is different in some places, however. In the 20 states which obtain little of their power from coal, the average price is 12.7 cents per kilowatt hour.

Gas is seen by some as a cheap alternative to coal. In May 2012, the average price of gas for power station use was 3.03 cents per 1,000 cubic feet.

But by this past May, the price had exploded to 4.79 cents. Utilities, attempting to hold customers’ bills down, used more coal. In May, the percentage of power generated from that fuel had climbed back to 39.5 percent.

No doubt Obama was aware of those numbers in June, when he revealed a new campaign against coal-fired power plants.

Congress could stop Obama. But with notable exceptions, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., nearly all Democrats in both the Senate and House of Representatives back him.

Many of the very Democrats who support Obama serve states where electric bills will soar if the president gets his way.

For now, with many coal-fired generating units set for closure still in operation, utilities can blunt the impact of gas price increases on customers’ electric bills. But if Obama is not checked, those units will close – and there will be no option but to produce power at higher-cost gas-fired plants.

Time is short for Obama to be stopped. At some point, lawmakers whose constituents are crying out about higher electric bills will find they have supported their party’s president for too long.