Old Problems, New Challenges
Chapter 20: Sustainability: the core challenge facing public utilities
The public utility sector of the U.S. utility industry is in many ways in the best shape it has been for a long time as a result of intense study and investment that occurred in the last two decades of the last century. The private versus public ownership battle has been put to rest; privatization and other industry restructuring has been shown to not always provide the tremendous cost savings promised since the 1990s; the financial status of both the investor-owned and publicly owned utilities have emerged from the deepest recession since that of the 1930s capable of carrying them through most of the challenges facing them in the next quarter-century. Prices for the newly discovered accessible sources of carbon-based energy have dropped precipitously from their historic highs, making it far less costly to generate electricity and heat homes and offices, cutting heating and air-conditioning bills for much of the nation. The uncharacteristically warm early 2015‒2016 winter in the eastern United States resulted in the lowest prices for natural gas in more than a dozen years. Water conservation efforts of states and local communities are working; all sectors of the economy seem to be using less water. Amounts of solid waste generated by households and businesses continue to decline while recycling percentages grow. A decade of investment in public transportation has brought dependable, low-cost mobility to thousands in both urban and rural regions of the country.Yet, despite all these accomplishments, the public utility future is not all as rosy...
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