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An Appeal to Bill McKibben …

August 5th, 2010 · No Comments

Coming not that far from Bill’s neck of the woods, NB41 is a very thoughtful and knowledgeable advocate of wind power … working hard for helping make wind power a reality.  This guest post is his appeal to Bill McKibben to advocate for feed-in-tariffs as a tool that works to get clean energy expansion accelerated.  Can the man who made 350 a global term make Section 102 a household name? Bill, are you out there?

Dear Mr. McKibben,

I read your “ecotorial” that was on the Energy Bulletin today, a mild mannered and still sensible version of Howard Beal’s call to arms. And still the question of how do we “dope smack”/knock some sense into the people of this country remains unanswered.

Join me after the fold for a potential (partial?) answer ..

Yes, many people are very frustrated with the frozen pace of progress with regards to CO2 pollution, and maybe some will start doing civil disobedience/get arrested/ and possibly spend some time behind bars getting socially acquainted with some very anti-social people. Oh yes, these actions will also be tracked by our National (in)Security apparatus, both the various governmental ones, as well as the quasi-governments ones, and some corporate ones, too. And as long as too much of a hassle is not stirred up, not too much “anti-social” will be dished out in retaliation. But, too much success, and we get a repeat of what happened to anti-Vietnam war protesters, and in this time of AIDS and dreadful Hepatitus strains, well, getting a slow death sentence for a stay in jail for protesting Global Warming and Corporate Greed may not seem worth it to all but a few. Also, in my town of only 1 newspaper, and many identical corporate TV and radios, this protesting will almost never be covered – the old “what if an acorn falls and nobody hears it land – did it ever happen?” conundrum.

In general, enviro stuff hear rarely gets even 15 seconds, but a few tea-baggers … well I’m sure you know that scene.

So what gets people’s interest these days? And what has gotten it for the last decade, but so many main stream enviro groups never seemed that interested? Well, the real unemployment rate in the City of Buffalo is more like 35% to 40%, but that’s just an average, with those in labor/factory/construction jobs doing the worst, while those in service jobs/lawyers/professors/corporate/governmental technocrats/bureaucrats doing more or less OK – the usual class sort-of-warfare scene. These workers would also be the people whose ex-bosses and ex-co-workers might have college degrees, and the whole team was actually making stuff – but no more.

With the advent of Obama, there came the hope of Green Jobs, but unfortunately, those are happening in Ontario, not across the creek here in Buffalo. That’s because they have a Green Energy Act (GEA)/Feed-In Law and we don’t, and there can actually be renewable energy installations that make economic sense in Ontario. And if they don’t dump too much solar PV onto their market (and those are mostly being made for the jobs, not the energy), and put more wind into their mix, the result of adding this higher priced electricity into the Ontario grid will actually be lower average electricity prices via the Merit Order Effect.

But, the GEA is mostly about jobs, and secondarily about finding non-polluting substitutes for pollution sourced electricity – particularly the province’s coal burners and natural gas burners. Where it will get tricky is with nukes, which are far too expensive and almost bankrupted Ontario a decade ago. Soon, there will be much more than the 27,000 direct jobs now underway, via the $17 billion now under contract, and lots more to go. Those jobs will have spin-offs (job multipliers), and suppliers and finance people to make it happen, as well as communities benefiting from these jobs. Soon, no one will miss the coal burners; there were no new jobs to be had with them, anyway.

And then, try to take away the Feed-In Law provisions – it just won’t happen. Ditto as in Germany right now. There would be riots, and all kinds of quiet and not-so-quiet protests/actions/demonstrations and vitriolic emails/calls/letters demanding those Feed-In Laws back, and probably lots of demands jail time (and not the Club Fed ones either) for the human varmits that tried or did take them away.

We in NY State and for most of this country see little evidence of Green Jobs. In NY, Green Jobs don’t happen because it is now and for the forseeable future mostly a money LOSING proposition to install renewable energy systems – especially wind turbines – right now. None have been installed in almost 21 months – and it looks like all of 2 commercial scale units might make it this year. Truly pathetic, but then this is because electricity prices collapsed by 50% when demand dropped by ~ 6% (mostly via factory shutdowns, too). You can’t expect people to invest $1 billion (2008) and then just lose $100 million per year for a decade, and expect more investments.

This is a big difference between NY and Ontario (and lots of other states). The electricity we use/pollute the skies to make is not really priced on a cost plus reasonable profit basis, as in Feed-In Law places, or even in regulated states where the same monopoly owns the lines and most of the power plants. In this brave new world of “de-regulation” and “competition”, now only natural gas burners make sense, because they are so NOT capital intensive compared to wind and other renewables. But, maybe no new ones will be installed – it fits with the “double-dip recession” motif. Anyway, the result will be effectively no new Green Jobs with respect to making anything, just some with efficiency improvements, until the state coffers dry up (really soon, too).

So, here’s the bottom line. Lots of support will accrue to clean energy when people are employed directly or indirectly in the Green Energy biz, or where their communities have a vested interest in such endeavors. But, absent the jobs, most of the population will find actions aimed at imposing a CO2 tax as very job unfriendly, despite the merits. And unlimited corporate and right wingnut propaganda (“advertisements”) can also cement that state of mind.

And if you want a massive renewable energy industrial complex (yes!), so we can shut down those polluting plants without shutting down our society/heading for some combination of a Mad Max and peasant farming/societal regression, we need to make renewable energy profitable, and not just for the extremely rich to own. We want rich people paying taxes, not using incredible quantities of tax credits. We need to be able to let states do big time feed-in laws, as in Germany and Ontario. We need a renewable energy manufacturing industry widespead across the country, employing at least 1 million people in direct manufacturing, and with about 5 million other jobs tied to supplying those jobs with parts ranging from fibergalss to steel to coatings to concrete to transformers and switchgear to cranes. And beer sales to quench some thirsty people’s need to realx after actually being lucky enough to work to by that beer.

To do that, a tiny piece of Federal legislation is needed, which I call the Section 102 approach. This will replace the term “Avoided Cost” in the 1978 PURPA Law with cost plus reasonable return possibilities. And it would allow those states who wish to to enact Feed-In Laws (in NY, we have bills A187 and S2715 “in the hopper”) to enact them. Not all states need to enact these initially, but when those other states see the job creation/economic stimulus that the Feed-In Law states get, well, that will cause rapid changes (“the second grader effect”).

So, I realize this is not “big picture” stuff. Or the cathartic wake-up smack to the head to the American public, where they will agree to pay more for electricity that is made via non-polluting approaches, because it is the morally correct thing to do. But this Section 102 would probably do more than anything in the Kerry-LIEberman bill, and probably the better Waxman-Markey ACES bill (where it was lifted from).

Anyway, my prediction is, no Green Jobs, not more than a minority will support climate-sane energy production approaches. When real unemployment rates are way past 20%, such concerns about future generations that Global Warming encompasses take a back-seat to survival for the vast majority who live in search of a paycheck, or from paycheck to uncertain if there will be a next paycheck. After all, during the Great Depression, hypothermia was the second leading cause of death. And 48 people per day starved to death in Detroit for much of 1932.

Anyway, we could use your help with Section 102. It can be added as part of a jobs bill (it’s true place), an environment bill, or an energy bill (it is an update of the 1935 federal Power Act/1978 PURPA Act). Consider this as one of your biggest recruiting drives into a part of the population (workers, engineers, bankers, chamber of commerce types, businesspeople) that is a bit thin in your organization.

Besides, when students graduate from college into unemployment (the rule these days, not the exception), wouldn’t they like a chance at a job that actually makes the world a better place? Oh yes, not one of those “intern” unpaid ones, a real job that pays money – maybe not the most, but enough to keep them in fine Vermont beer on occasion. Section 102 will allow that to happen, and also prevent a lot of CO2 pollution at the same time.

Anyway, please zap me a line/contact me..


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