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Column: New resolutions for a new year

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Since it's extremely difficult to make and keep resolutions for oneself, and since there are a lot of different subjects out there--none of which are worth a whole column--here comes an end-of-the-year mix of stuff I've got on my mind.

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First, regarding your confusion regarding your natural gas and electric bills, J.C., which you mailed to me from the East Coast, with the question: "Am I getting taken?" (Well, yes you are, but when it comes to energy costs, so are all of us.)

About the only thing that's not confusing that you can buy any more is LP gas and fuel oil, which comes by the gallon. As for natural gas and electricity, the adders, surcharges, and abbreviations are, it almost seems, a deliberate attempt to make sure you cannot compare your bills to others, and thus cannot complain.

First, I was surprised about the base cost of a kilowatt out there, at a fraction over 8 cents. My rural electric co-op, which has access to most of the U.S.A.'s coal next door, is over 9 cents. So far, so good. The rest, however...

1. A "Dist." charge. That means "distribution charge." They're adding 3.3 cents on to help defray the costs of their wiring system. Poles, lines, underground, etc. Now you're paying more than we are around here.

2. "Transition" charge. Not much, a tenth of a cent. My best guess here is that this is for the automatic computerized switches that hook their grid up to someone else's, for when they run short of power.

3. "Transmission" charge. At 1.7 cents, I believe they've just added another category so that number 1 above doesn't look so large. But wires "leak" electricity, so you must leak money to compensate for that.

4. "Energy efficiency" charge. At 0.6 cents, they're defraying costs of meeting federal and state mandated efficiency updates. Better transformers, maybe some wiring things in here. Who knows.

5. Finally, a "Renewable energy" charge. This, at half of a half of a cent, goes toward meeting the federal 20 by 20 mandate, meaning 20 percent renewable energy by the year 2020. Around here, they're still giving us the option to get in and pay more for our electricity, or not. You don't get that option.

So, basically, you're paying about 8 cents for a KW, and almost as much again for various delivery and mandated charges. At nearly 16 cents, you're about where I understood the East Coast to be, cost wise.

Your natural gas bill is simpler. You're getting by cheaply until they add minimum charges, thermal factors (gas expands and contracts with temperature, so they're adjusting for that, as winter gives you more gas in its cooler contracted state), distribution adjustments (a nice term for: "Hmmmm, where can we slide another surcharge in here, that will sound acceptable to the state board of rate adjustments). You start out pretty darned reasonable at $.836 (83 cents) for a CCF, or one hundred cubic feet, the "C" being the Roman "100" abbreviation. This is also referred to as a "therm," or 100,000 Btu's, just for confusion's sake, lest you actually understand this.

You start cheaply, but then the other charges nearly double your cost to upwards of $1.60. Again, about what I've read you should expect out there, being as there are no good ways to get a pipeline from the Canadian oil fields to you, which is where natural gas just pops up out of the ground "naturally."

So much for that. Anyone with questions can e-mail a bill to the newspapers; I'm sure they'll forward it to me for my interpretation.

Moving on, here are some of my resolutions for the New Year. They're not just for me. They're for other selected individuals.

First, here's one for all you lovers of white vehicles in Minnesota. My compliments for doing such a great job of selecting cars that look like snow banks so that they're not quite as obvious to the rest of us who are trying to avoid mayhem on the highways. Good job, you (I too have a partially white car).

Even better, kudos to those of you with white cars who, in a questionable attempt to make things even worse, decide to drive down the road at twilight with your parking lights on. That's just such a great help, notifying the rest of us that, if we do see you against the snowy background, we'll think you're parked (unlike you, my headlights are always on).

Finally, last but not least, here is notification of my attempt to place you somewhere south of the IQ bell curve's peak as you refuse to move over even a little bit when you see someone walking alongside the road. In this case, that's me. I expect, however, that you recklessly let anyone rash enough to walk on your road know that it's all really yours, so I'm projecting your behavior out to the general public, and not taking it personally.

The general public, at last analysis, is now officially 44 percent obese.

I hope they don't all take up walking as an exercise. There won't be any room left for you road hogs should that happen.

Happy New Year.

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