Technical Difficulties

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In the aftermath of the Northeast blackouts, energy secretary Spencer Abraham is eager to solve the nation’s energy woes — by passing Bush’s 105 point energy plan. Democrats are already scoffing at Abraham’s plan, and promising that they’ll pass something to end the energy madness — something that doesn’t call for drilling on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or further support for SUVs. The blackouts bring out the best of bipartisan bickering, but politicians and energy professionals all acknowledge that the US’s grid system is extremely out-dated. Both parties claim that they warned the other of a coming crisis. Unfortunately, the crisis occurred, and now it seems that everyone has a separate solution.

On Fox News Sunday, House Majority Leader Tom Delay offered his bright ideas:

“We need a comprehensive energy package. The house has passed one now going on three years. The Democrats in the Senate, the BANANA environmentalists. BANANA — NIMBY is no longer the term… It’s BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything environmentalists.

Well, the bill that passed the House is what we need. We need new capacity. We need to be able to allow people to build plants to create electricity. We need the energy to burn in those plants, whether it be coal, natural gas, nuclear power, more hydropower. We need transmission lines that can be connected nationwide, not just in the regions, so that they can be protected.

And the American people need to understand that there are people out there that have fought us every step of the way to keep us from doing it: utility companies that don’t want competition, Democrats in the House and Senate, and these BANANA environmental extremists that’s don’t want anything anywhere.”

Republicans insist that a “comprehensive bill” — probably something like the Bush administration’s bill that allows for ANWR drilling and happens to benefit Cheney’s buddies — is the only way out of the mess. But Enver Masud of the Christian Science Monitor writes that Bush’s energy plan doesn’t really have much to do with providing inexpensive and reliable electricity. Masud notes that the country’s energy problems date back to at least the 60s, with the Arab oil embargoes politicizing regulatory decisions in the 70s:

“Consumers were promised lower costs if only the electric industry were restructured. Electric companies that carried responsibility from the electricity generating plant all the way down to the customer’s meter began to be sold off in pieces. Generation, transmission, and distribution became separate entities.”

“But deregulation itself was a misnomer. What really happened was that new laws and regulations were put in place, and a tried-and-true system that favored cost minimization was replaced with an untested system that favored profit maximization. It also fractured responsibility for the overall reliability of the system.

The ‘antiquated system’ of which President Bush spoke is merely one outcome of this new legal and regulatory environment. It’s time we took another look at the whole flawed concept of deregulation.”

In Democracy Now’s debate with Competitive Enterprise Institute CEO Fred Smith, firebrand BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast agreed. Palast, who worked for the state of New York investigating energy corruption, points out that the major players in the Northeast blackouts have a history of fraud and failure: Toledo Edison faked its safety and reliability records, MetEd owned Three Mile Island, and the Niagara Mohawk System lied about the costs of its Nine Mile Point Nuclear Plant. Palast says it all adds up to the “ Three Stooges of the electricity industry knocking their heads together.”

Palast goes on to explain that the deregulation of electricity had some charged political implications:

“We used to have a rule, set up by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Public Utility Holding Company Act, which said that electric companies could not give money to politicians. When that rule was eliminated — so it was deregulation not only of the pricing of the system, and the deregulation of the quality controls and budgeting of the system, but the deregulation of the political giving in the system, which ended up with a complete disaster — blackouts from California to New York. And this is the first of many coming.”

To which CEI’s Fred Smith could only reply: “White hat, black hat analysis is fun and investigative journalists do it.”

The topic that no Republicans and few Democrats are willing to broach? Conservation and renewable resources. Henry Wasserman of Ohio’s Free Press calls the electricity grid “obsolete if not obscene” and calls for a “green deconstruction” of the system:

“Solar technologies are ready to make energy self-sufficiency a tangible reality. ÊPhotovoltaic cells on rooftops and embedded in windows can produce grid-free electricity, with battery or fuel-cell backups. ÊGeothermal power can heat and cool with nothing but the power of the earth’s crust. ÊMethane digestion can turn waste into usable gas. ÊBasement generators can use biomass fuels like ethanol and soy diesel for off-grid self-sufficiency.

Bush’s ‘upgrading the grid’ means a new money pit for the same old unsafe nukes, polluting coal burners and gas turbines whose prices are set to skyrocket … all looped together by dangerous, wasteful wires that are bound to crash again and again.”

The Bush administration is hungry to get its bill passed. But DeLay’s “BANANA” lobbies are increasingly powerful, and, in light of recent events, it’s possible that more Americans will now entertain the notion that we could make ourselves more secure by simply consuming less. Carl Pope of the Sierra Club reiterates what his organization has been saying for years:

“We need to decentralize the USA’s power sources to increase stability, use more renewable energy like wind and solar power, and ensure power companies aren’t allowed to manipulate markets. Unfortunately, the Bush administration’s energy plan, developed with the energy industry, will take us backward on all these counts.”


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