Deconstructing Al Gore's utility bill (updated)

Bruce Thompson
Much of what has been written about Al Gore's carbon footprint demonstrates the ignorance of the writers more than it illuminates the facts. So let's try and understand the reality.

So far the description of his electric bill has been undisputed. He used 221,000 KWH of electricity and spent an average of $1,359 per month. Totaled over the full year, that is an annual bill of $16,308.

That means Gore is paying 7.39 cents per KWH. In defending his actions, Gore has communicated through the Think Progress website that he has signed up with the Green Power Switch program of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Note that TVA pays its Green Power suppliers 15 cents per KWH!  

So Al Gore pparently is receiving what amounts to a subsidy for his "green" electric usage that is greater than what he pays for electricity ( 7.61 cents per KWH) totaling $16,842 annually.

Note also that all TVA customers are getting a huge bargain on their bills due to the TVA being a mostly nuclear and hydropower source utility, originally funded by the federal government (i.e. all federal taxpayers). How many of American Thinker's readers pay 7.39 cents per kwh retail (e.g. including distribution charges)? Not many, I wager.

Let's look at what it costs to generate electricity:

Today's Wall Street Journal puts the price of natural gas futures for April delivery at $7.30 per million BTUs. Using the conversion factor of 3412 BTU/KWH, that amount of gas is enough to generate 293 KWH at 100% efficiency (2.49 cents per KWH). But no turbine can achieve anything close to 100% efficiency. The actual fuel cost for a gas turbine depends on the efficiency of the turbine.

The efficiency of gas turbines varies, but is about 30% for simple cycle units. Here is a report indicating that a Capstone microturbine gets 23.7% at full load That would put the fuel cost alone at 10.51 cents per KWH. Even a combined cycle gas turbine capable of 60% efficiency would have a net fuel cost of 4.15 cents per KWH. Add in the capital and operating cost for the plant and then the distribution cost and you'll see that Al Gore's cost of 7.39 cents is a true bargain.

If Gore really wants to help reduce global warming, how about paying 15 cents per KWH? He'd be really motivated to stop wasting precious electricity!

Update: Reader Ed Waage writes:

I did some more calculations which show he is only purchasing about 37% of green electric power.
TVA's average rate is 6.4 cents/kwh: http://www.tva.gov/abouttva/keyfacts.htm (Gore's rate may be different.)

Green energy is sold in blocks of 150 kwh for $4.00 or a cost of 2.67 cents/kwh in addition to the base rate: http://www.tva.gov/greenpowerswitch/green_resid.htm

So Al Gore would be paying 2.67 + 6.4 = 9.07 cents/kwh if he were 100% green

As you point out he is paying 7.39 cents/kwh which is only about 1 cent more than the average rate of 6.4 cents/kwh.

Divide the 1 cent by the 2.67 cents cost of green energy, and you get 37% usage of green energy.

The rest of his power is generated with about 60% fossil fuels (http://www.tva.gov/index.htm) principally coal (http://www.tva.gov/power/fossil.htm).

Update: Reader Tanner jessel writes:
You wrote that TVA is mostly hydropower and nuclear power. Hydro power generation accounts for 6 percent of TVA production, nuclear accounts for 29 percent. Fossil fuels constitute the largest portion of power generation, at 64%.



I live in Knoxville, Tennessee, headquarters of the TVA. If I could afford the extra money to purchase green power each month, I would do so. I know that my power would still be 64% coal, but the extra money green power customers pay allows TVA to invest in development of more renewable energy assets to augment the power mix. A wind turbine plant was recently expanded north of Oak Ridge, Tenn., as an example.


At Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., solar panels were installed atop shelters in the vast parking lots. These are miniscule installations compared to the fossil operations, but without green power customers there would be no funding at all.


TVA can't spend money on green power if there is no demand for it.

Businesses and individuals with the financial means to do so help create that demand. FedEx, Lowe's Home Improvement, and The University of Tennessee are among the largest customers (http://www.tva.gov/greenpowerswitch/bizlist1.htm). Individuals like Al Gore with money to spare have both the ability and responsibility to invest in renewable energy.

TVA is not a burden to the taxpayer, as your article seems to propose.

It is responsible not only for power generation but also flood protection, commerce on the waterways, and managment of public lands.

So it is more than a public utility company to make cheap power.

)Businesses and individuals with the financial means to do so help create that demand. FedEx, Lowe's Home Improvement, and The University of Tennessee are among the largest customers (and reader Donald Sensing writes:

I live in Franklin, Tenn., near Nashville, and blog at www.donaldsensing.com
In this column, "Deconstructing Al Gore's utility bill," Bruce Thompson wrote,
Note also that all TVA customers are getting a huge bargain on their bills due to the TVA being a mostly nuclear and hydropower source utility, originally funded by the federal government (i.e. all federal taxpayers).
TVA has been self financed since 1959; neither Al Gore's nor my electricity is taxpayer subsidized. Also, TVA is neither mostly nuclear nor hydropower. According to http://www.tva.com/power/index.htm:
Fossil-fuel plants produce about 60 percent of TVA’s power, nuclear plants about 30 percent, and hydropower dams about 10 percent.

TVA's power production is actually mostly coal-fired. (http://www.tva.com/power/fossil.htm).

TVA was founded in 1933 not to provide power, but to control Tennessee River Valley flooding and to restore the productivity of farmland. It was not until World War II that TVA became principally focused on power generation and it was to provide wartime energy needs that TVA's hydropower facilities came to be, although some such capacity was built in before then.
http://www.tva.com/abouttva/history.htm

During World War II, the United States needed aluminum to build bombs and airplanes, and aluminum plants required electricity. To provide power for such critical war industries, TVA engaged in one of the largest hydropower construction programs ever undertaken in the United States.

As a Reagan conservative, I never thought I would find myself in a position to defend Al Gore. I think that "carbon offsetting" is a shell-game scam, but facts are facts. Knowing well the Belle Meade area of Nashville where Gore lives, I'm not sure what he could do to become greener in his home than he says he is - although it's fair to ask what's taking him so long. I'm willing to bet that his electrical usage is not out of line with his neighbors; by no means is Gore's 10K sq. ft. house one of the largest in Belle Meade. It also should be pointed out that Gore runs his business - and it's a big business, obviously - out of his house (or so his spokeperson claims), and that should be factored in.


Much of what has been written about Al Gore's carbon footprint demonstrates the ignorance of the writers more than it illuminates the facts. So let's try and understand the reality.

So far the description of his electric bill has been undisputed. He used 221,000 KWH of electricity and spent an average of $1,359 per month. Totaled over the full year, that is an annual bill of $16,308.

That means Gore is paying 7.39 cents per KWH. In defending his actions, Gore has communicated through the Think Progress website that he has signed up with the Green Power Switch program of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Note that TVA pays its Green Power suppliers 15 cents per KWH!  

So Al Gore pparently is receiving what amounts to a subsidy for his "green" electric usage that is greater than what he pays for electricity ( 7.61 cents per KWH) totaling $16,842 annually.

Note also that all TVA customers are getting a huge bargain on their bills due to the TVA being a mostly nuclear and hydropower source utility, originally funded by the federal government (i.e. all federal taxpayers). How many of American Thinker's readers pay 7.39 cents per kwh retail (e.g. including distribution charges)? Not many, I wager.

Let's look at what it costs to generate electricity:

Today's Wall Street Journal puts the price of natural gas futures for April delivery at $7.30 per million BTUs. Using the conversion factor of 3412 BTU/KWH, that amount of gas is enough to generate 293 KWH at 100% efficiency (2.49 cents per KWH). But no turbine can achieve anything close to 100% efficiency. The actual fuel cost for a gas turbine depends on the efficiency of the turbine.

The efficiency of gas turbines varies, but is about 30% for simple cycle units. Here is a report indicating that a Capstone microturbine gets 23.7% at full load That would put the fuel cost alone at 10.51 cents per KWH. Even a combined cycle gas turbine capable of 60% efficiency would have a net fuel cost of 4.15 cents per KWH. Add in the capital and operating cost for the plant and then the distribution cost and you'll see that Al Gore's cost of 7.39 cents is a true bargain.

If Gore really wants to help reduce global warming, how about paying 15 cents per KWH? He'd be really motivated to stop wasting precious electricity!

Update: Reader Ed Waage writes:

I did some more calculations which show he is only purchasing about 37% of green electric power.
TVA's average rate is 6.4 cents/kwh: http://www.tva.gov/abouttva/keyfacts.htm (Gore's rate may be different.)

Green energy is sold in blocks of 150 kwh for $4.00 or a cost of 2.67 cents/kwh in addition to the base rate: http://www.tva.gov/greenpowerswitch/green_resid.htm

So Al Gore would be paying 2.67 + 6.4 = 9.07 cents/kwh if he were 100% green

As you point out he is paying 7.39 cents/kwh which is only about 1 cent more than the average rate of 6.4 cents/kwh.

Divide the 1 cent by the 2.67 cents cost of green energy, and you get 37% usage of green energy.

The rest of his power is generated with about 60% fossil fuels (http://www.tva.gov/index.htm) principally coal (http://www.tva.gov/power/fossil.htm).

Update: Reader Tanner jessel writes:
You wrote that TVA is mostly hydropower and nuclear power. Hydro power generation accounts for 6 percent of TVA production, nuclear accounts for 29 percent. Fossil fuels constitute the largest portion of power generation, at 64%.



I live in Knoxville, Tennessee, headquarters of the TVA. If I could afford the extra money to purchase green power each month, I would do so. I know that my power would still be 64% coal, but the extra money green power customers pay allows TVA to invest in development of more renewable energy assets to augment the power mix. A wind turbine plant was recently expanded north of Oak Ridge, Tenn., as an example.


At Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., solar panels were installed atop shelters in the vast parking lots. These are miniscule installations compared to the fossil operations, but without green power customers there would be no funding at all.


TVA can't spend money on green power if there is no demand for it.

Businesses and individuals with the financial means to do so help create that demand. FedEx, Lowe's Home Improvement, and The University of Tennessee are among the largest customers (http://www.tva.gov/greenpowerswitch/bizlist1.htm). Individuals like Al Gore with money to spare have both the ability and responsibility to invest in renewable energy.

TVA is not a burden to the taxpayer, as your article seems to propose.

It is responsible not only for power generation but also flood protection, commerce on the waterways, and managment of public lands.

So it is more than a public utility company to make cheap power.

)Businesses and individuals with the financial means to do so help create that demand. FedEx, Lowe's Home Improvement, and The University of Tennessee are among the largest customers (and reader Donald Sensing writes:

I live in Franklin, Tenn., near Nashville, and blog at www.donaldsensing.com
In this column, "Deconstructing Al Gore's utility bill," Bruce Thompson wrote,
Note also that all TVA customers are getting a huge bargain on their bills due to the TVA being a mostly nuclear and hydropower source utility, originally funded by the federal government (i.e. all federal taxpayers).
TVA has been self financed since 1959; neither Al Gore's nor my electricity is taxpayer subsidized. Also, TVA is neither mostly nuclear nor hydropower. According to http://www.tva.com/power/index.htm:
Fossil-fuel plants produce about 60 percent of TVA’s power, nuclear plants about 30 percent, and hydropower dams about 10 percent.

TVA's power production is actually mostly coal-fired. (http://www.tva.com/power/fossil.htm).

TVA was founded in 1933 not to provide power, but to control Tennessee River Valley flooding and to restore the productivity of farmland. It was not until World War II that TVA became principally focused on power generation and it was to provide wartime energy needs that TVA's hydropower facilities came to be, although some such capacity was built in before then.
http://www.tva.com/abouttva/history.htm

During World War II, the United States needed aluminum to build bombs and airplanes, and aluminum plants required electricity. To provide power for such critical war industries, TVA engaged in one of the largest hydropower construction programs ever undertaken in the United States.

As a Reagan conservative, I never thought I would find myself in a position to defend Al Gore. I think that "carbon offsetting" is a shell-game scam, but facts are facts. Knowing well the Belle Meade area of Nashville where Gore lives, I'm not sure what he could do to become greener in his home than he says he is - although it's fair to ask what's taking him so long. I'm willing to bet that his electrical usage is not out of line with his neighbors; by no means is Gore's 10K sq. ft. house one of the largest in Belle Meade. It also should be pointed out that Gore runs his business - and it's a big business, obviously - out of his house (or so his spokeperson claims), and that should be factored in.