The old ‘energy independence’ trick

Posted: April 25, 2011 in Uncategorized
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We may not be in our heyday but there were many tourists in downtown Saratoga Springs on Easter Sunday.

President Obama and House Republican Chris Gibson (R-20th District) have repeated a common mantra: Energy independence. They say they advocate broad-spectrum energy policies including the construction of nuclear power plants, pointing to China’s plans to greatly expand the number of such plants, even in the face of Japan’s ongoing disaster.

In Gibson’s case this is a ruse – a trick to attract support for a nuclear plant close to Salem, Greenwich, Cambridge, Saratoga Springs, NY and parts of western Vermont.

He told rural residents in Easton, NY, that he wants to lower Capital District energy costs … to help farmers. Yet construction of a nuclear power plant – in the United States, anyway – is far from affordable. The result will be a net INCREASE – though not necessarily in a form visible in utility bills. The public will end up paying for infrastructure. It is another way of transferring wealth into the hands of the few .. just as has occurred in countries such as Dubai.

The nuclear plant proposal is hardly designed for farmers. Rather, it is part of a package transforming an agricultural and tourism region into a tech megatropolis … the most visible aspect of which is the Abu Dhabi-owned GlobalFoundries plant in Malta, NY.

Such a project will undoubtedly help Gibson’s top campaign contributors by generating infrastructure work … and INCREASING the use of fossil fuels. The energy industry, though, primarily benefits the energy industry. And that is due to the way profits are distributed in our country … very different from the way it is distributed in, say, China. Here, energy profits may be visible in the form of palaces on the very same streets where retail businesses are folding or struggling to stay open, homeless people push shopping carts carrying their belongings or deposit bottles, and buildings remain vacant and for sale at up to half the asking price prior to the real estate market “crash.”

There is also an argument that “clean” nuclear power will help reduce global warming. If you’re talking about global warming – look no further. This project is taking what we once called “urban sprawl” to new levels. The “Luther Forest” (there WAS a forest) Technology Campus is a long, long way from major population centers … necessitating automobile commuting, truck transport, etc. Consider even the transport of construction materials from their place of manufacture to a rural area far upstate from New York City. Consider, too, the loss of trees and habitat. The net result is a HUGE “carbon footprint.”

Taxpayers are already carrying this project on their backs as the project has been spurred by very generous tax abatements.

Plant profits? To Abu Dhabi, a small but very rich oil port in the Middle East.

In effect, Abu Dhabi may be seen as the primary beneficiary of a nuclear power plant here. Yes, the prospect of cheaper electricity will almost certainly attract more microchip-related businesses –- which, in turn, will increase automobile traffic, land use, fossil fuel consumption and global warming.

So the global warming argument won’t wash here … yes, more electricity will be produced without carbon emissions … but the production of such energy will also lead to much more carbon emission via traffic/transport, construction, waste/waste hauling, and loss of green space and local food production. President Obama has said that we have to find a way to put an end to the “boom and bust” cycle of American business – here we are doing the opposite. But without the boom! Even this highly touted and incredibly wasteful tech project has failed to buoy the area … look at the empty buildings for sale at bottom prices at the south end of Saratoga Springs on the road to Malta and GlobalFoundries. Oh, yes, that’s because the banks aren’t lending the taxpayer money the government generously gave them to stimulate the economy. This is another application of pressure to break resistance to tech projects.

Transforming a region from agricultural/tourism to tech manufacturing … the way our dynamic financial system is working now … will benefit very rich, powerful people at the expense of everyone else. Consider rising food prices as well as rising energy costs. The energy industry specifically, offers some very specific and stunning local examples from the past (George Westinghouse, whose name is now part of Toshiba/Westinghouse of Japan, the nuclear power plant maker) to the present. It is a lurch toward disaster in the face of a coming global food crisis as well as being wasteful of fossil fuel.

Yes, there are places – namely, major metropolitan areas — where re-development appears to make sense. And fission reactors (where are the deadly “spent” nuclear fuel rods going, again?) might be seen, at least, as a component. Detroit is a fine example – there bringing in tech manufacturing makes sense … much more sense than in destroying agricultural/tourism regions whose “leaders” sell out in the lethal competition of states/regions.

Some idealism comes into play here: Local people do want our children to be able to find careers here, rather than in distant cities. They do want to see their local investment grow. And yet they also want to retain a quality of life. The question is, will this growth benefit them? Or will they see their benefits stolen by much more powerful interests as they sacrifice their quality of life and that of their children and their children’s children?

There is one more argument for nuclear power: Keeping up with China, which reportedly plans to build more than 200 nuclear power plants.

Yet we are not “keeping up” with China. Look at a Chinese city … even an older one … and you may see something quite different than in the United States: Solar panels on every roof. Why don’t you see them here? Because … nearly a decade after thin-film photovoltaic home power systems were demonstrated to be cost-effective, the federal government – I do mean the Obama government – has it backwards. Instead of giving YOU the homeowner, the business owner, the farmer, money to kick-start installation of solar power systems, the government STILL gives the money to private companies to “research” photovoltaic technologies. Even in the past month the government awarded such a $40-million-plus grant.

This is the OPPOSITE of “free market” economics. In a free market system, innovation results from demand. Here the presumed innovation would somehow be expected to result from a gift of the very (taxpayer) money that would be used to purchase the aforesaid technology. The “gift” actually STALLS the “innovation” since it has removed “demand” … or at least the money that could be used to PURCHASE the technology. We are not in a “research” stage with regard to solar technology: Like the Chinese we should be using it to at least power our homes. THAT is “keeping up” with China.

We do need to be talking to the Chinese people … to the people of India, Brazil, etc. We need to put away this idea of “competition” which will only lead to mutual destruction via war, famine, soil depletion, air and water pollution. Now … not next year.

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