Oil and gas White House pushes nuclear power
June 8, 2001 | Page 5
SUMMER OF the blackout. That's what the months ahead hold for California, where the possibility of repeated interruptions in electricity with little or no warning has hospitals, schools, businesses, families--in short, everyone--wondering how they'll get through the summer.
And California isn't alone in its struggle to keep the lights on at a reasonable price. Seattle residents have been hit with three utility rate hikes already this year--and officials say another increase is likely this fall. In New York City, transmission bottlenecks have pushed electricity prices to sharply higher levels.
George W. Bush has a simple answer to the problem: Get rid of environmental regulations--and drill, mine and drill some more. And if that doesn't work, build nuclear power plants!
But Bush's proposal to plunder the planet won't do anything for people suffering from the energy pinch.
That's because high energy prices don't have anything to do with a lack of supply. In California, for example, blackouts began this spring when demand was less than 30,000 megawatts--despite the fact that California has 55,000 megawatts of power-generating capacity.
The real problem is corporate greed.
In 1996, the energy industry "helped" California lawmakers write a deregulation law that was supposed to bring lower prices by making utility companies buy power on the free market. Five years later, the opposite has happened--a small and powerful cartel of power-generating companies is withholding electricity supplies in order to drive prices to astronomical levels.
The companies claim that they're only following the law of supply and demand. This is true in a sense--the bosses control the supply, so they can demand whatever they want.
Now California's utility companies are crying bankruptcy. But they weren't complaining five years ago when the deregulation bill set electricity rates artificially high.
With the help of their servants in the White House, the power bosses want us to pay for the disaster of their free market. We can't let them get away with it.
"We're going to stop them"
HARVEY WASSERMAN is an expert on energy issues and a veteran of the anti-nuclear movement. He spoke with Socialist Worker's ERIC RUDER about California's power pinch--and the politics behind it.
BUSH IS always talking about the energy crisis. Is there really a crisis?
NO. THE only energy crisis is that the oil and gas companies own the White House.
He's using the notion of a crisis--for those of us who are familiar with the Vietnam War--as President Lyndon Johnson used the Gulf of Tonkin.
There's no real energy shortage in California. They've never exceeded their capacity. It's all manipulation by the oil and gas companies--and the utilities. California's not using any more electricity now than it did a year or two ago. But the price has gone up 700 percent--actually by a factor of 10 in some cases.
They're on target to spend $60 or $70 billion a year on electricity in California, which two years ago would have cost $6 or $7 billion. And Bush is totally in favor of it because he's paying back the people who put him in the White House.
He wasn't elected by the American people--he was appointed by the oil and gas companies.
BUSH IS even trying to use the California crisis to stir up interest in drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
NATIONALLY, WE use less than 4 percent of our oil to generate electricity. So the California crisis has absolutely nothing to do with ANWR.
It's ridiculous. All this is going to do is feed some SUVs for a couple months. Oil drilling in ANWR is based on the idea that every rich American has the right to drive his own tank.
DICK CHENEY says that nuclear power is the cleanest, cheapest and most abundant energy source available.
HE'S WRONG on every count. It's not the cheapest, not the cleanest, not the most abundant. In fact, quite the opposite. It's the most expensive, it's the least available, certainly the least reliable, and it's completely unsafe.
These people are trying to ride a dead, radioactive horse, and it's just unconscionable and ridiculous. But Bush got big money from the nuclear industry.
And it's also a major diversion. They know that as long as they're building nuclear plants, people won't go for the alternatives. And the alternatives--renewable energy like solar and wind power--actually work! And conservation and efficiency work, too.
They're all cheaper, and they're totally reliable, while nuclear power is a proven failure. The idea of trying to revive it is patently insane. Anyone who would seriously advocate bringing back nuclear power belongs in a padded cell.
SO WHERE do they come up with the claim that nuclear power is cheaper?
IT'S CREATIVE accounting. If you don't account for radioactive waste, if you don't account for the capital cost of the plant, if you don't account for the environmental and other costs of the nuclear fuel, if you don't account for the likelihood of more accidents, if you don't account for the health impact of ongoing emissions, then you can come up with a number that indicates it might be cheaper.
It's ridiculous. What they're doing is driving a truck off a cliff and talking about how they're breaking all these speed records.
THEY ALSO say that wind and solar energy sources aren't feasible.
THAT'S ALSO hype. When the sun doesn't shine, the wind blows. Or there's biomass fuels, or there's geothermal, or there's tidal energy.
The point is that you use a mix. Solar power is proven, and wind power is now the cheapest and fastest form of new electric power generation to build. You can build a wind farm in less than a year, and it's being done on the Oregon-Washington border.
It's coming in at 2.5 cents a kilowatt hour--which is cheaper than everything except brown coal.
Germany--which is hardly a Third World nation--brought 1,300 megawatts of wind power online last year. That's the equivalent of a large reactor. Simultaneously, they're shutting down their 19 nuclear reactors. What does that tell you?
We have infinite wind capacity--and you're not going to have to evacuate a city if a windmill goes down! It makes every bit of sense in the world.
WHAT ABOUT Bush and Cheney's claim that we need more deregulation and more free-market reforms?
THAT'S COMPLETE nonsense. The opposite is true. The utility industry is a natural monopoly. There will never be real competition in electricity--that's like competition between streets.
There are only two ways to get a reliable source of energy--either you have regulated private utilities or you have public ownership. The disaster in California has really been a case study in why you need public power instead of private utilities.
The two utilities in California that have thrived during this "crisis" are the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power--both of which are owned by the public. Their mandate is to serve the public with cheap, reliable electricity, as opposed to gouging as much profit as they can take.
Consumers are going to get dirtier energy less reliably and more expensively as a result of deregulation.And not everybody is going to be able to get it.
Under regulation, the utilities were required to provide everyone who demanded it with electricity. Under deregulation, the utility companies can tell people to go take a hike--and they will, I guarantee you.
WHAT SHOULD people do to fight this?
FIRST, THEY should put these independent power guys in jail, along with the utility company executives who bought the ability to write the deregulation legislation in the first place--both in California and the other states where deregulation has been pushed through.
The public should re-regulate--or, better still, "municipalize," which means that every city, town or county should own its own utility system.
The utilities should be taken over by the public. And not necessarily on a state basis, because when you have an organization that big, it tends to get corrupted. You need to have more grassroots control. We have municipals in this country, and they work very well. Seattle, Austin, Cleveland, LA, Sacramento--these places do fine.
CAN OUR side win?
I THINK we're going to stop them from building nuclear power. We're forming an alliance now--right now, we're organizing under the working title "The No Fucking Way Alliance."
We'll have an organization nationwide devoted to mass civil disobedience. If they build it, we will come--and we're going to stop them.