Friday, August 29, 2003

An Ill Wind?

Alternative power sources are already in place and making money.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 29, 2003 at 4:00 AM

When in the midst of a Blame Typhoon, with charges and counter-charges being hurled in all directions, I find it most useful to consult those two polar stars of utter wrongheadedness, Tom DeLay and The Wall Street Journal's editorial page.

Both good for a chuckle, and both perfect weathervanes for the wrong direction. When in doubt, disagree with DeLay, and you'll be okay.

The Journal, in addition to meretricious arguments, vast leaps over relevant stretches of fact and history, and an awesome ability to bend any reality to its preconceived ideological ends, also offers that ludicrous dogmatism that never fails to charm.

A column about energy politics by George Mellon in a recent Journal contained just the right mix of irrelevant argument (he's very upset that a bunch of nervous nellies want to shut down the Indian Point nuclear plant, as though this had anything to do with the frail, undercapitalized transmission grid that caused the August blackout), expedient forgetfulness (uh, actually, OPEC had quite a bit to do with the gasoline crunch of the 1970s), and perfectly delightful nuttiness ("millions of Naderites are trying to peddle windmill farms, even though these inefficient H.G. Wells monsters are already destroying the scenic beauty of places like Palm Springs and the Dutch coast").

Scenic beauty of the Dutch coast?

When Mellon goes on the aesthetic offensive against unsightly windmills as compared to the ever-so-sightly coal-fired plant, oil refinery, and nuclear power catastrophe-in-waiting we must snap to attention. Mellon may be interested to know that in Austin we can purchase "green energy" from the windmill farm near Fort Stockton, Texas, for 2.85 cents per kilowatt hour, and that cost is guaranteed not to increase for the next eight years. Regular electricity from Austin Energy, a municipally owned company, is now undergoing a three-step price increase that will move its fuel charge from 1.774 cents to 2.796 cents per kilowatt hour by the end of January.

Mellon works for our most respected financial newspaper: If the Journal could get a 10-year, fixed-price energy contract at 2.85 per kilowatt hour, would the Journal take it? (In New York City, the price for power generation charged by ConEd hovers around 10 cents per kilowatt hour.)

As for the aesthetics of windmills: Cars pull over by the highway in West Texas so the kids can watch the things go round and round.

Clean, cheap, endless energy no radioactive waste, no air pollution, no strip mining, no oil spills, and no gas-pipeline explosions. Yet the Bush administration wants to spend billions subsidizing coal, oil, gas, and nuclear power and leave both wind and solar technology unsubsidized and unhelped. Now, is that a stupid policy or what?

Every energy source in this country has been vastly subsidized, including hydropower by government-built dams. If wind power were subsidized at a fraction of what we already spend with tax breaks, loopholes, and outright corporate welfare for polluting and destructive energy sources, it would already be the cheapest, not to mention the cleanest, energy source available. This is not pie-in-sky Naderism (whatever that is). This is right now, 2.85 cents per kilowatt hour.

And why do we have such dumb, damaging, self-destructive energy policies? Do you think it has anything to do with corporate campaign contributions? Do you think it has any connection to the fact that Dick Cheney wrote the National Energy Plan? (In secret, with the advice of oil, gas, and coal executives and lobbyists.) A couple of Ken Lay's suggestions in his famous memo to Cheney were incorporated word-for-word in the Cheney plan.

As for the always-egregious Tom DeLay, the Exterminator, two years ago he blocked a program of loan guarantees for upgrades to the transmission system. Said he of the Democratic proposal, "It's pure demagoguery." The first thing he did when the lights went out was to blame the Democrats, of course.

Now, according to The New York Times, the Republicans are refusing again to pass stand-alone transmission-grid improvements. They insist on including the rest of the Cheney rip-and-run plan, including drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and other economically marginal and environmentally disastrous schemes.

These free-market fundamentalists are on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of economics, the wrong side of technology, the wrong side of progress, and the wrong side of the environment. Better, cleaner, cheaper sources of power are now available. Get your heads out of the sand, your asses in gear, and join the 21st century. This is not "Naderite" romanticism, you dumb schmucks. It's already making money.

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