Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Power of Change

Yesterday I shared the Ether with Loren Steffy, Business Columnist at the Houston Chronicle, on BlogTalk For a half-hour, we discussed how the automobile manufacturers are going to fare with gasoline north of $4/gal.

The conversation evolved into talking about other lifestyle changes that are going to be occurring as we all figure out how to make up for the difference in what it costs to get around vs what we’re able to devote to such expenses.

Since I’ve been “gainfully-unemployed” recently, I think I’ve left the house a total of three times in the past three weeks on errands just for me. Now, the family has had additional trips along which we’ve traveled together. But I can count the alone-times I’ve had with my beloved two-seater on the fingers of one hand.

I believe more and more of us are going to figure out a way to consolidate trips and leave the house less. Or if we do venture, it will be on foot or on a bicycle (I have been riding mine every-other-day!) What other changes do you believe expensive gasoline/fuel prices are going to cause?

Amtrak reports an increase in ridership on its Heartland Flyer rail line that runs between Oklahoma City and Ft. Worth. That trip costs you only $48, with whistle-stops in picturesque places like Ardmore, Norman, Purcell and Gainesville. So with the cost of a round-trip ticket slightly less than a tank of gasoline, ridership is up over 10%, and Amtrak is looking at the possibility of extending the service northward to Tulsa and Kansas City.

Forget the charm of riding the rails vs the personal convenience of taking your own car where ever you want to go. The thing that’s going to change the way we do things is pure and simple economics. If enough demand builds for train service, it will come.

Another downside of expensive fuel costs have been the untimely demise of electricity retailers, REP’s they’re called, which promise to sell you juice at a bargain rate while your neighbors roast this summer. Three of those outfits have “shorted-out” in the last several weeks, and according to my source with the Texas Energy Analyst, Alan Lammey, more are likely to follow.

Lammey explained that many of these REP’s were heavily leveraged, betting their books that the price of power would drop off in the Spring, as it seasonally has in past years. Didn’t happen this year, with $135/bbl oil futures, and $12.50 natural gas. In fact, most resellers aren’t even taking on new customers right now.

So if you’re already in a plan with a rate of less than 16-cents/kwh, consider yourself lucky—unless your REP kills the current. Lammey says the phrase that pays for electricity providers, and their customers, is “Survive the Summer.”
Hope we all do!

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