Of PWSA privatization & ‘green’ energy

Of PWSA privatization & ‘green’ energy

City of Pittsburgh officials, in concert with a number of activists, have been adamant that the city’s Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) – long neglected, used for political purposes and now under state Public Utility Commission (PUC) oversight – should not be privatized.

After all, they “argue” (the word is placed in quotation marks because their protestations do not rise to the level of cogency), all manner of horrid things will happen. Rates will skyrocket. The “poor” will be left waterless. “Profit” will replace “public service.” And on and on and on.

Never mind, of course, that even should a private entity take over the PWSA, the PUC would maintain oversight, riding herd over rates and such. Their “argument,” heavy on class warfare and anti-capitalist rhetoric, is all heat and no light and a tutorial in ignorance about fundamental economics.

And never mind that plenty of local government jurisdictions are served quite well by private water companies.

By the way, not far from Pittsburgh, just over an hour away in St. Clairsville, Ohio, government there is entertaining water/sewer system privatization. As reported by The Times Leader:

“Faced with an aging and deteriorating water and wastewater system, the city is considering selling to a private outfit.”

Added Jim Zucal, the Eastern Ohio community’s safety and service director, “We have to prepare for the future.”

St. Clairsville’s water treatment plant is 90 years old. It last was updated 34 years ago. “(M)uch of the distribution system’s pipes, valves and fire hydrants … have never been replaced,” the newspaper notes.

City leaders have just begun to explore the privatization process. A decision is months away. Bids would have to be sought. State and federal environmental standards would have to be met. There would be state PUC oversight.

Should St. Clairsville, Ohio, decide to privatize its water and sewer system, that “dastardly” profit motive will force any private operator to be as efficient as possible in pursuit of serving customers as economically as possible.

What do Pittsburgh’s “progressives” not understand?

Perhaps they’ll argue privatizing water and sewer services in a small Ohio town cannot possibly be analogous to a major city.

What, is Pittsburgh’s “old” somehow different than St. Clairsville’s “old”?

What, are the fundamental rules of good business practices and economics somehow different in Ohio than in Pennsylvania?

What, does water and sewage somehow flow differently here than there?

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is on record as calling for municipal operations to be completely reliant on renewable energy sources by 2030.

But, and on scales both limited and expanded, the mayor might want to review the scholarly research of Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Writing in the Nov. 19 New York Post, Bryce reminds that “renewables aren’t growing fast enough to even match the torrid growth in global electricity demand, much less displace significant quantities of hydrocarbons.”

Worldwide oil consumption is surging as well, Bryce notes. By the end of this year, he says “just the increase in the world’s oil burning will nearly be as much as the output of every solar-energy generator on the planet.”

But, surely, on a smaller scale – a Pittsburgh municipal operations scale – Peduto’s call is achievable, right? Perhaps. Renewable energy generation that powers micro-grids (and not just to power “municipal operations”) sounds all well and good.

But at what cost?

And at what tradeoff?

How much smoke?

How many mirrors?

When it comes to government operations, the supposed “benefits” always appear to be touted – sans, of course, the “niggling” details that hardly are niggling and have a nasty habit of outweighing the purported benefits.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).