Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pickens: J.R. Ewing with a Twist?


When I saw T. Boone Pickens' first wind power ad in June, I nearly fell off the couch. Finally, a Texas "oily" who really saw the light. Someone with enough money to spearhead renewable energy--wind--along with a pitch for solar. Then I got to thinking.

Pickens will continue to get billions from natural gas as more states restrict the burning of coal for electricity. As a depleting commodity, natural gas can only get more costly--and profitable--for Pickens. Granted, natural gas is cleaner burning than coal but as a fossil fuel it still emits greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide. Investing in wind power by Pickens would appear as a forward-thinking and downright noble move on his part. The gist of the matter to me is it's a win-win for Pickens who then has two cash cows. Instead of paying for Pickens' natural-gas-generated electricity ratepayers also will be paying for Pickens' wind-power-generated electricity.

Don't get me wrong--there's nothing wrong with making a profit. The success of our country has come from a tradition of representational democracy and making a buck. But the Pickens Plan smells more like rank opportunism than altruism.

The sun and the wind it produces is for all of us--at least for now. Solar and wind power are eqalitarian in that their use for energy is equally available to many today--and hopefully to everyone very soon. I shudder to think that Big Oil and for-profit utilities make major investments in renewable energy allowing them to maintain sole control of energy as a commodity.

Would corporate-owned massive solar and wind farms provide us with cheaper electricity? Not necessarily. Even with plentiful sun and wind available would utilities control electricity supply to manipulate rates? History shows they could. Furthermore, whether utilities produce or buy renewable power, they will still remain in control of transmission and distribution which accounts for most of today's electricity charges. When individuals, businesses and co-ops decide to generate the majority of their electricity needs with grid-tied systems and net metering, they are exercising their rights to control their own energy future.

Towns and cities could do the same. Citizens of Los Angeles get most of their power from the municipally-held LA Department of Water & Power. Their rates are significantly lower than their surrounding neighbors who must use (publically-held, for-profit) Southern California Edison. LA is pushing solar power in and around the Harbor and LADWP offers rebates for residential and commercial solar installations. (The rebate program is separate from the California Solar Initiative which provides rebates for SCE, PG&E and SDG&E ratepayers.) Cities and states hold the authority to require utilities to buy solar- and wind-powered electricity, thus helping keep some control of future energy needs in the hands of the citizens. New cities can make renewable energy part of their charters and begin their own municipal utilities.

Mr. Pickens has funded Proposition 10 on the Nov. 4 ballot here in California. It's designed to give sizeable tax subsidies to natural gas-powered vehicles over hybrid vehicles. A review (below) of this proposition reveals a cynical and self-serving man. He's more like J.R. Ewing but with a twist. (http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/2008/09/my_take_on_t_bo.html)


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