Ukraine Again Shows Why Decentralized Energy is Essential
We lost 45 years to the fossil fuel billionaires and their GOP toadies, who’ve kept us dependent on fossil fuels to keep their profits high - but still they want more, more, more...
As Putin’s war of choice against Ukraine tears that nation apart, his army is in the process of seizing a second nuclear power generating station, which will allow him to cut off power — and thus communications, heat, and water — to large chunks of that nation.
If most households in Ukraine had solar panels on their roofs and battery storage in their basements — as two states in Germany and the US State of California are now requiring for all new construction — blowing up or seizing a central power station would have far less ability to brown out large parts of the country.
Although the United States doesn’t (at the moment) face the prospect of warfare on our continent, our centralized power generation stations are similarly vulnerable to foreign or even homegrown militia/terrorist saboteurs who could also brown out an entire city, as they have already tried more than once and I outline in The Hidden History of Big Brother.
Starting with the era of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, centralized power plants were pretty much the only game in town. President Franklin D. Roosevelt even spent a small fortune in tax dollars to hook them up to rural homes across America through the 1935 Rural Electrification Administration (REA); by 1943 over 380,000 miles of high-tension power lines had been installed in what are now mostly Red states across the nation.
The biggest advantage of centralized power generation today, however, is no longer reliable power (ask any Texan); it’s reliable wads of cash to the for-profit electric companies that came to dominate America’s power sector after the privatization binge that started in a big way during the Reagan era and went on steroids with Ken Lay’s Enron and similar scams nationwide over the past 30 years.
Just look at how Texas governor Greg Abbott encouraged power plant and grid operators to take whatever profits they wanted during that state’s energy crisis. After fleecing Texans for hundreds of millions in windfall profits, as the Texas Tribute noted just months ago:
“Abbott received about $4.6 million from oil, gas and broader energy interests, his largest haul ever from those groups in the post-legislative session fundraising period…”
This was immediately after Texas’ electric energy regulator ERCOT’s head testified under oath that Abbott had authorized massive price-gouging by his donors against Texas’ voters. As Newsweek noted last month:
“Former Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) CEO Bill Magness testified in court on Wednesday about the Republican governor's alleged role in allowing power prices to reach and remain at a maximum cap of $9,000 per megawatt hour, or 150 times the normal rate, according to the Houston Chronicle. More than 4.5 million Texans lost power during the February 2021 crisis, contributing to the deaths of at least 246 people.”
It was, the article noted, a billion-dollar windfall for the for-profit power companies and their wealthy executives and investors.
Not so much for average Texans, though, who are still at the mercy of greedy grid and powerplant operators. Had they run off their rooftops, they wouldn’t have lost a penny and never would’ve lost electricity.
Between the fossil fuel industry and politically active fossil fuel billionaires, it’s reasonable to estimate that over a billion dollars have been spent in the past 40 years trashing renewable energy mostly through bought-off Republican politicians, setting up climate change disinformation “think tanks” and influencer networks, and supporting rightwing climate-denying media.
Jimmy Carter tried to take them on in 1979 announcing on July 15th of that year his plan to put solar panels on homes across America with the goal of cutting our use of fossil fuels in a big way.
“I propose the creation of an energy security corporation to lead this effort to replace two and a half million barrels of imported oil per day by 1990. The corporation will issue up to five billion dollars in energy bonds, and I especially want them to be in small denominations so average Americans can invest directly in America’s energy security. …
“Moreover, I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation’s first solar bank which will help us achieve the crucial goal of twenty percent of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.”
Carter proposed to not only move Americans away from fossil fuels, but also to move us away from dependence on for-profit centralized power generation and distribution systems.
For the first time since homes across the country were powered by wood, most houses would be independent of, or only minimally dependent on the electric grid, because of the individual-home solar panels Carter was proposing the federal government should subsidize.
“These efforts will cost money,” Carter told Americans, “a lot of money, and that is why Congress must enact the windfall profits tax [on the fossil fuel industry] without delay. It will be money well spent. Unlike the billions of dollars that we ship to foreign countries to pay for foreign oil, these funds will be paid by Americans, to Americans. These will go to fight, not to increase, inflation and unemployment.”
Within minutes of his finishing his speech, the fossil fuel industry and the politicians they own went on the attack. Although Carter never once used the word “malaise” in his speech, they labeled it that in hundreds of articles and op-eds, a title that sticks to this day.
To the contrary, it was probably the most optimistic speech and set of policy proposals — in terms of ending America’s planet-killing addiction to fossil fuels — by any president ever.
It also pissed off the petrobillionaires and the thus mobilized massive piles of money for the Reagan campaign, money Reagan repaid by taking Carter’s solar panels off the roof of the White House and killing dead his solar initiatives immediately after taking office.
So we lost 45 years to the fossil fuel billionaires and their GOP toadies, who’ve kept us dependent on fossil fuels to keep their profits high. And there is literally no bottom for the lies and disinformatoin they’ll spread to keep the money flowing.
Today, stickers are showing up on gas pumps all across the nation with pictures of President Biden pointing in the direction of the gas price with the caption, “I did that” as if Democrats, rather than Republicans, had been pushing a fossil-fuel-based economy and fighting against green energy for 45 years.
Not to mention their wacky conspiracy theories: on Fox “News,” one commentator theorized our gas prices are so high because President Biden refuses to follow Trump’s lead in giving Saudi Prince MBS a pass on murdering Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“Saudis hate Joe Biden because he called them out over the Khashoggi killing,” said Jesse Watters. “…And that's why you have to be more diplomatic with the Saudis. You can’t just leave and call them all killers.”
Watters is right that Trump sucked up to the Saudis like Watters does; it’s necessary as long as we’re held in the grip of the fossil fuel addiction that’s financed the GOP for forty years. But it’s a position that’s both anti-American, patently asinine, and totally unnecessary.
Similarly, Republicans are doubling down on their position that we should be handing more American public lands, National Parks, and pristine or protected wild areas over to the fossil fuel industry. Instead of green energy, they say, we need more fossil fuels pulled out of the ground and burned into the atmosphere here in America so their billionaire patrons can get even richer.
A rightwing reporter asked White House spokesperson Jen Psaki last week why we shouldn’t use the Ukraine crisis as an excuse to gift the fossil fuel industry with more leases and federal lands on which to drill and dig. Psaki’s answer was succinct:
As Psaki says, the industry and its billionaires are “sitting on more than 9,000 unused permits to drill in the United States” and more than half of the 39,000,000 acres currently leased to the industry are not yet being used to produce energy.
But still they want more, more, more.
Home-based solar power is not only cheaper than electricity produced by nuclear or fossil fuels, it’s incredibly reliable and moves our nation toward energy independence. Once installed, it doesn’t cost a penny even to charge your car! It also doesn’t damage our atmosphere.
While centralized power generation was necessary in 1922, it’s an anachronism in 2022. Europe, looking over their shoulder at their huge reliance on Russian fossil fuels, is moving as far and as fast as they can toward renewables and home- and community-based power generation.
We should, too, and would be well down that road right now if Kirsten Sinema, Joe Manchin and every Republican in the Senate hadn’t voted to block President Biden’s Build Back Better renewables initiative. The utter, defiant disdain these sellouts have for our nation and the future of our children is both breathtaking and disgusting.
The election this fall may be our last chance to bring into power progressive politicians who will green American energy policy; if we fail, the fossil fuel billionaires and their wholly-owned GOP will take over completely.
The result will be more severe storms, more loss of life, more property damage, more pollution poisons in our air and water, and more profits for the petrobillionaires and their industry.
Check your voter registration (Republicans are expected to purge millions nationwide this year, now that 5 radicals on the Supreme Court have legalized it) and redouble your efforts to wake up your friends and neighbors. The future of our planet — as well as of your home and neighborhood — is on the line.