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Robber Barons and the Utility of Myth

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
February 7, 2001


There is no energy crisis in California. There is a crisis to be sure, but it has nothing to do with a power shortage. Solar technologies would make this fabricated "crisis" go away instantly. In fact the Golden State is blessed with a selection of renewable, and environmentally sustainable energy sources. Resources being virtually ignored in favor of expensive and pollution producing fossil fuels.

Proponents of energy deregulation wanted to open utilities to the free market. Well, they got their wish. But the free market wasn't as free as they thought it should be so they reduced the amount of power generated and then jacked up the prices. All completely legal and orchestrated by legislators courting campaign contributions from deregulated corporate utilities.

Claiming to be near bankruptcy these corporations are asking for a government bailout, even while paying dividends in the billions to stockholders. The "all gain and no pain" philosophy is usually not heard in conjunction with laissez-faire capitalism. So where exactly does it say corporations are entitled to risk free investments?

Budd Dickinson, a Berkeley energy analyst and spokesperson on energy issues for the state Green Party believes that this "crisis" is the wholesale "blackmail of California ratepayers". "You don't let me raise my rates," they're telling us, "or you don't let me build nuclear power plants or any power plants in your neighborhoods, and I'll cut off your electricity."

The truth be told, Southern California Edison can bail itself out. It's parent company, Edison International, owns over $37 billion in assets. Extortion is such an ugly word. But that is actually what Californians are facing. Currently ratepayers are paying twice as much for electricity. In the form of state bail-outs Governor Gray Davis is now asking California residents to pay twice to keep the lights on.

Economic slight of hand is just a polite way of saying thievery. But that too applies. And whereas these crimes being perpetrated  affects all Californians, the economic effect of the proposed bailout and rate hikes would affect the poor the most. Some already are having to chose between food and heat. If small businesses start going belly-up because they can't keep the lights on, there will be considerably more people will be facing similar choices.

Historically, the Green Party has been the only electoral voice in California warning against the adverse effects of energy deregulation. In 1998, Green Party of California joined with consumer groups to push for reform of the California's energy deregulation law.  The initiative was soundly defeated by the three big energy companies in California, PG&E, SoCal Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric, and millions of dollars televised propaganda.  This investment by the utilities translated in to almost $30 billion since shared by the utilities under the deregulation bailout. Levying consumer rate hikes for utility company benefit will not mitigate this burgeoning crisis.

Outraged by the convoluted approach to the current energy crisis, Greens and others are once again calling on the state legislature to integrate common-sense, consumer friendly, sustainable measures. Recommendations lay out a comprehensive agenda for establishing an energy policy that supports conservation, public control, renewable energy, tiered pricing, and requiring utilities to use their corporate assets to bail themselves out. Who in their right mind could disagree with that? Well, Governor Gray Davis for one.

Here in San Diego's north county, a commitment to solar power would bring down our rates, and make us completely self-sustaining in regards to our energy needs. Sunshine is a free energy source once converters are in place, we have plenty of it, and most residences can supply their own. Yet we still cling to a failing system, and it's antiquated technologies, which continues to destroy our environment. Go figure.

Along with conservation, and environmentally preferable methods of generation, state and local leaders need to consider growth limitations to discourage population increases which only further burdens our failing political infrastructure. Reducing consumption while increasing the numbers of consumers is a fools errand.

If our political system can't handle the current ethical crisis, what makes them think it will be any better twenty years from now when there are another million angry people screaming to keep the lights on? I suspect we should just accept the inevitable, admit to the world that the golden state shines no more and get on with the task of destroying the environment. The 2002 elections seems a very long way off, I suspect we should also get used to sitting in the dark.


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