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Blackout


This is the fourth–and worst–completely unnecessary major blackout of the Northeast in forty years, dating back to 1965.


It’s scope–from Detroit to Ottawa to New York and New Jersey–is absolutely awesome, especially since it’s due to total stupidity and corruption.


This does not count the blackouts that raged through California in 2000-2001. Those were “blackmails,” set by Enron and the other Bush gas cronies to rip $60 billion out of the state, leading to, among other things, the impending ouster of Gov. Gray Davis.


When the lights went out, Davis kissed the feet of Southern California Edison’s John Bryson, who engineered a deregulation bill that gouged $30 billion out of the ratepayers for the state’s failed nukes. That opened the gates for the gas pirates to steal yet another $60 billion. Davis got caught in the backdraft.


The culprits in this latest northeastern disaster are basically the same–the barons of fossil and nuclear power and their cronies in the electric utility business.


Their “weapon” is an ancient electric grid that’s obsolete if not obscene. It is a massively fragile Rube Goldberg device that dangerously and inefficiently carts around electricity from expensive, polluting and extremely unsafe central generating plants to buildings that waste massive amounts of energy and generate none.


That the grid will crash again and again and yet again is absolutely certain. The only question is who are the real terrorists: errant crazies who blow things up, or entrenched interests that refuse to change?


The technology now exists to transcend this mess. In the mid 1990s California’s green energy advocates proposed a 600-megawatt mosaic of solar, wind and other renewable generators that would have entirely prevented the fake deregulatory crisis of 2000-1. It was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, but then killed by Southern California Edison and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.


Today, the Bush Administration wants to further subsidize its fossil/utility friends with a bad energy bill, and by pouring billions into “upgrading” the electric grid. The only thing certain is that every cent of that money will be wasted.


In 1952 a Blue Ribbon report to Harry Truman predicted that the future of America‘s energy rested with the sun. It predicted 13 million solar-powered homes here by 1975, and the promise of decentralized, off-grid self-sufficiency.


Instead, Dwight Eisenhower took us into the pit of the “Peaceful Atom”. A trillion dollars later, we have a half-century of crashing grids and dangerous nukes that are vulnerable to terrorism and must shut down precisely when they’re most needed, as they did during this latest blackout. The latest Bush energy bill only makes the situation worse, with more nuke subsidies and a powerful push for fossil fuels, especially coal.


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


These systems need not provide 100% of a building’s energy, but can gradually make them increasingly self-sufficient. Meanwhile more efficient heating, lighting and cooling systems can reduce demand. Windows that actually open and close can balance usage, building by building.


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 skyrocketS(all looped together by dangerous, wasteful wires that are bound to crash again and again.


San Francisco has used part of a public bond to put the first of a new generation of solar cells atop its downtown Moscone Center. Those same cells could’ve kept Madison Square Garden or any other Manhattan building up and running during this latest outage. Will New Yorkers know better next time?


The technology for a decentralized, solar-based power system is ready now. We don’t need massive research breakthroughs.


We need public demand and fully funded production capacity. And to stop repeating the same mistakes because the utility and fossil/nuke guys fund the politicians in power.


This isn’t rocket science. It’s just common solar sense, known to all since 1952.


Harvey Wasserman is author of THE LAST ENERGY WAR and senior editor of www.freepress.org.


 

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