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writing for godot

Monopoly Energy or Energy Democracy?

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Written by Ceal Smith   
Saturday, 26 November 2011 18:54
Monopoly energy is holding us hostage to increasingly costly and destructive energy sources. A new Energy Democracy movement is brewing that will move us away from extreme global warming and towards a more equitable, environment friendly energy system.

The power of renewable energy is its ubiquity. Solar, wind and bioenergy resources offer a historical opportunity to decentralize, democratize and create a leaner and greener energy system. Such a system could renew our ailing communities by creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and generating savings and income for real people, businesses and neighborhoods while protecting the environment. But the transition will require new rules and policies that threaten the very foundation of the existing power structure.

In a hilarious, but tragically revealing, 2010 Daily Show Jon Stewart reminds us that the last 8 US Presidents have vowed, and failed in various degrees, to achieve energy independence and end our dependency on fossil fuels.*

Instead, the pocketbooks, planet, public safety and welfare of the 99% have been hijacked as the 1% manufactures our continued dependence on increasingly invasive and dirty energy sources. Even solar and wind energy is rendered destructive when designed after the massively scaled, centralized old energy model.

Despite media rhetoric, when measured against the rest of the world, the US is dragging pathetically behind in the global effort to check climate change, which at this point (392.39 ppm and counting), demands no less than a complete and immediate transformation of our global energy system.

Ontario, Canada's economy is thriving with clean energy generation and jobs. Despite being downplayed in the US, Germany has maintained its global lead in distributed solar energy while pushing to go beyond nuclear. Even Japan has adopted a new feed-in tariff (FIT) designed to spur 30,000 MW of renewable energy by 2020. (FIT's are unequivocally the most effective policy incentive for renewable energy and steadfastly opposed by nearly every utility/monopoly energy interest in the US).

We have even lost hard fought ground. Colorado's pioneer Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing program continues to be derailed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Xcel's abrupt and steep reduction in Solar*Rewards has cost Colorado thousands of good, green jobs, and even a very modest FIT study bill didn't make it past first base in the state legislature this year due to unified utility opposition.

While there have been a few hard earned gains, like Colorado's solar permitting reform legislation, and Boulder's bold move to explore utility municipalization, the bottom line, financing and progressive policy incentives for community based renewable energy remains chronically anemic.

In contrast, "monopoly energy" is moving full throttle ahead. Massive new shale oil and natural gas fracking, and industrial wind and solar powerplant "plays" are being staked out by industry across the nation stoked by billions in taxpayer subsidies and unfettered access to cheap public lands.

The cost to our communities, public health and the environment is and will be massive but because of broad exemptions granted to the industry, these "externalities" are largely unaccounted for.

All of this is leading up to the painfully obvious question: Why have 'we as a nation' failed to move ahead in achieving wildly popular (and democratic) local clean energy goals, more than 40 years after we recognized the need?

Germany's solar champion, Hermann Scheer offered this answer in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! shortly before his death:

“We’re in a race between centralized and decentralized, energy monopoly and energy democracy. The mobilization of society is most important and once people realize we can’t wait for the government or utilities, but can do it themselves, it will change."

Most importantly, Scheer said, "People need to act to overcome administrative and bureaucratic barriers that hinder renewable energy. The rules favoring conventional energy and blocking decentralized renewable energy need to be exposed and dismantled”.

Japan has learned the same lesson, albeit far more painfully than Germany. In a report by Paul Gipe on Japan's recent adoption of a feed-in tariff, designed to spur more than 30,000 MW of renewable energy by 2020, he pointed out that:

"Observers say a key feature of the new law is the creation of a special parliamentary committee to determine the details of the program, including specific tariffs. In the past, this function would normally have been assigned to the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). However, the political fallout from the nuclear disaster at Fukishima has led to a dramatic loss of trust in METI, which has opposed both the rapid expansion of renewables, and also the use of feed-in tariffs to do so. Taking program design and pricing away from METI is a major victory for renewable energy advocates in Japan"

Like METI in Japan, monopoly energy (including the utility industry) devoutly opposes progressive renewable energy policies that will decentralize and democratize energy systems in the US. A major player in the Corporatocracy, monopoly energy interests have captured the White House and most of Congress, dominates State energy politics and in many cases, even controls local agendas.

The time has come for an Energy Democracy movement that understands monopoly energy's strangle-hold on our society and resources and the importance of directly challenging and dismantling an inherently destructive power structure.

* (Watch the Jon Stewart show here: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-june-16-2010/an-energy-independent-future?xrs=share_fb) (Find our more about Energy Democracy at: http://slvrenewablecommunities.blogspot.com/)
 

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