By Harvey Wasserman
High above the Bowling Green town dump, a green energy revolution is being won. It’s being helped along by the legalization of marijuana and its biofueled cousin, industrial hemp.
But it’s under extreme attack from the billionaire Koch Brothers, utilities like First Energy (FE), and a fossil/nuke industry that threatens our existence on this planet.
Robber Baron resistance to renewable energy has never been more fierce. The prime reason is that the Solartopian Revolution embodies the ultimate threat to the corporate utility industry and the hundreds of billions of dollars it has invested in the obsolete monopolies that define King CONG (Coal, Oil, Nukes & Gas).
The outcome will depend on YOUR activism, and will determine whether we survive here at all. Four very large wind turbines in this small Ohio town are producing clean, cheap electricity that can help save our planet. A prime reason they exist is that Bowling Green has a municipal-owned utility. When it came time to go green, the city didn’t have to beg some corporate-owned electric monopoly to do it for them.
The Opposition: Nuke/Fossil Fuel Advocates
In fact, most of northern Ohio is now dominated by FirstEnergy, one of the most reactionary, anti-green private utilities in the entire US. As owner of the infamous DavisBesse reactor near Toledo, FE continually resists the conversion of our energy economy to renewable sources. Except for the occasional green window dressing, First Energy has fought fiercely for decades to preserve its unsafe reactors while fighting off the steady progression of renewable generators.
FE’s obstinance has been particularly dangerous at DavisBesse, one of the world’s most profoundly unsafe nukes. To the dismay even of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other notoriously docile agencies, undetected boric acid ate nearly all the way through a reactor pressure vessel and threatened a massive meltdown/explosion that could have irradiated the entire north coast and the Great Lakes. FE’s nuke at Perry, east of Cleveland, was the first in the US to be substantially damaged by an earthquake.
Both Perry and DavisBesse are in the stages of advanced decay. Each of them is being held together by the atomic equivalent of duct tape and bailing twine. A major accident grows more likely with each hour of operation.
Small wonder the nuclear industry has been shielded since 1957 by the Price-Anderson Act, which limits corporate liability in any reactor disaster to less than $15 billion, a drop in the bucket compared to what has already happened at Chernobyl and Fukushima, and could happen here.
Should either of those reactors blow, FE and other investors will simply not have to pay for the loss of your home, family or personal health. Should that federal insurance be removed, the reactors would shut soon thereafter since for the last 57 years, no private insurers have stepped forward to write a policy on these reactors.
As for the wind turbines in Bowling Green, there are no such problems. With zero federal insurance restrictions, they initially came in ahead of schedule and under budget. They have boosted the local economy, created jobs and produced power that is far cheaper, safer, cleaner and more reliable than anything coming out of the many nearby trouble-plagued burners of fossil and nuclear fuels.
New Electrical Generating Capacity: 92% from Renewables
Throughout the world similar “miracles” are in progress. According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 92 percent of the new electrical generating capacity installed in the US in the first two months of 2014 was renewable.
That includes six new wind farms, three geothermal facilities, and 25 new solar plants. One of those wind installations is a 75 megawatt plant in Huron County, Wisconsin.
Four solar arrays will produce 73 megawatts for Southern California Edison, which was just forced by a grassroots upsurge to shut its two huge reactors at San Onofre, between Los Angeles and San Diego.
SoCalEd and the people of southern California are now in the process of filling that void with a wide range of renewable installations. Many home owners will be doing it by installing solar panels on their rooftops, a rapidly advancing technology that is proving extremely cost-effective while avoiding production of millions of tons of greenhouse gases and radioactive waste.
By comparison, according to one report, new development in “fossil fuel based infrastructure was almost nonexistent for January and February, with only one natural gas facility brought on line.”
Across the nation, public opinion polls show an accelerating embrace of renewables. According to a Gallup Poll taken last year, more than 70 percent of Americans want more emphasis put on solar and wind power, well over twice as many as embrace coal (31 percent) and nearly twice as many as those who support new nukes (37 percent).
And here Wall Street agrees with Main Street. Despite gargantuan federal subsidies and its status as a legal fiefdom unto itself, major investors have shunned atomic energy. The smart money is pouring toward Solartopia, to the tune of billions each year in new invested capital.
There have been the inevitable failures, such as the infamous Solyndra which left the feds holding more than a half-billion in bad paper.
But such pitfalls have been common throughout the history of energy startups, including all aspects of the fossil/nuke industry. And in solar’s case, Solyndra has been dwarfed by billions in profits from other green investments.
The Hemp Revolution: Returning to Past Benefits and Charting Future Ones
Ironically, one of the biggest new fields [in] advanced bio-fuels is being opened by the legalization of marijuana and its industrial cousin, hemp. Hemp was the number two cash crop (behind tobacco) grown in the early American colonies. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were enthusiastic cultivators. Jefferson wrote passionately about it in his farm journal, and Washington took pains to import special seed from India.
As a crop with many uses, hemp has been an essential player in human agriculture for 50 centuries.
In early America, hemp’s primary early service was as feedstock for rope and sails for ships. But it was also used to make clothing and other textiles. Ben Franklin processed it in his first paper mill. And it has wide applications as a food crop, especially thanks to the high protein content of its seeds, which are also a core of the bird feed business.
Some of the early colonies actually required farmers to grow hemp. During World War II the military commandeered virtually the entire state of Kansas for it, using it primarily for rope in the Navy.
But since then it has been almost everywhere illegal.
There are many theories behind why, including a belief that the tree based paper industry does not want to compete with hemp feedstock, which as Franklin knew makes a stronger paper, and can be grown far more cheaply and sustainably.
China, Japan, Germany, Rumania and other nations have long been growing hemp with great profit. Canada’s annual crop has been valued at nearly $500,000,000. Estimates of its domestic consumption here in the US run around $550,000,000, all of it imported.
The US hemp industry is widely regarded as an innocent bystander in the insane war against marijuana. (Some believe that because it threatens so many industrial interests, hemp is actually a CAUSE of marijuana prohibition).
But because marijuana prohibition seems finally to be on the fade, the laws against hemp cultivation are falling away. The national farm community is in strong support, for obvious reasons. Hemp is extremely easy to grow, does not require pesticides or herbicides (it’s a weed!) and has centuries of profitability to back it up.
When Colorado legalized recreational pot it also opened the door for industrial hemp, with the first full on crop now on its way in. Washington state is following suit. In Kentucky, right wing Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell both strongly support legalization. The federal law against its cultivation in states where it’s being legalized has now eased.
Hemp’s role in the Solartopian revolution is certain to be huge. The oil content in its seeds make it a prime player in the booming bio-fuels industry. The high cellulosic content of its stems and leaves mean it might also be fermented into ethanol. (The stalks and stems are also highly prized as building materials and insulation.)
There has been strong resistance to bio-fuels now derived from corn and soy, for good reason. Those are food crops, and their use for industrial fuel has pitted hungry people against automobiles and other combustion technologies, bringing on rising prices for those who can least afford them.
Corn and soy are also extremely inefficient as fuel stocks (corn is far worse). In a world dominated by corporate agribusiness, they are generally raised unsustainably, with huge quantities of pesticides, herbicides and petro-based fertilizers. None of those are required for hemp, which is prolific, sustainable and can be raised in large quantities by independent noncorporate growers.
Along with ongoing breakthroughs in other feedstocks (especially algae) hemp will be a major player in the Solartopian future. As pot inches its way toward full legalization, we can reasonably expect to see a revolution in bio-fuels within a very few years.
Likewise wind and solar. Windmills have been with us for at least five centuries. Coming from the plains of Asia, they covered our own Great Plains in the Great Depression and have rapidly advanced in power and efficiency. Newly installed turbine capacity is far cheaper than nukes and has recently surpassed all but the dirtiest of fossil fuels. As at Bowling Green, installation can be quick and efficient. Actual output often exceeds expectation, as do profits and job-creation.
The Real Revolution of Photovoltaics
But the real revolution is coming in photovoltaics (PV). These technologies (and there’s a very wide range of them) convert sunlight to electricity. Within the next few decades, they will comprise the largest industry in human history. Every home, office, factory, window, parking lot, highway, vehicle, machine, device and much more will be covered and/or embedded with them. There are trillions of dollars to be made.
The speed of their advance is now on par with that of computing capability. Moore’s Law which posited (correctly) that computing capacity would double every two years is now a reality in the world of PV. Capacity is soaring while cost plummets.
It’s a complex, demanding and increasingly competitive industry. It can also be hugely profitable. So there’s every technological reason to believe that in tandem with wind, bio-fuels, geothermal, ocean thermal, wave energy, increased efficiency, conservation and more, the Solartopian revolution in clean green PV power could completely transform the global energy industry within the next few years.
“Only flatearthers and climatedeniers can continue to question the fact that the age of renewable energy is here now,” says Ken Bossong, executive director of the Sun Day Campaign.
But there’s a barrier — King CONG, the Robber Baron energy corporations. In fact, the Koch Brothers and their fossil/nuke cohorts are conducting a vicious nationwide campaign against renewables. It puts out all sorts of reasons for the bloviators to blurt.
But the real motive is to protect their huge corporate investments.
Because what’s really at stake here is the question of who will control the future of energy, King CONG or the human community.
Winning the Battle Against King CONG
Though it would seem it could also be monopolized, Solartopian energy is by nature community based. Photovoltaic cells could be owned by corporations, and in many cases they are. But in the long run PV inclines toward DG (distributed generation). The nature of rooftop collectors is to allow homeowners to own their own supply. The market might incline them at various stages to buy or lease the solar cells from a monopoly.
But in real terms, the price of PV is dropping so fast that monopolization may well become moot. As futurist Jeremy Rifkin puts it more generally [in] his Rise of Anti-Capitalism, “The inherent dynamism of competitive markets is bringing costs so far down that many goods and services are becoming nearly free, abundant, and no longer subject to market forces. While economists have always welcomed a reduction in marginal cost, they never anticipated the possibility of a technological revolution that might bring those costs to near zero.”
But that’s what’s starting to happen with photovoltaic cells, where fuel is free and capital costs are dropping low enough that the utility industry and its fossil/nuke allies can’t quite grab control.
When individual building owners can generate their own PV power, when communities like Bowling Green can own their own windmills, when small farmers can grow their own hemp-based fuel, who needs King CONG?
We know this powerful beast will fight against the renewable revolution right down to its last billion, especially now that American elections are so easily bought and stolen. Defending the green powered turf will not be easy.
But sooner or later, if we can survive fracking, the next few Fukushimas and the oil spills after that, Solartopia must come.
Our economic and our biological survival both depend on it.
See you there!Φ
Harvey Wasserman is a life-long activist who speaks, writes and organizes widely on energy, the environment, history, drug war, election protection and grassroots politics. He teaches history and cultural & ethnic diversity at two central Ohio colleges, and is married with five daughters and five grandchildren. Harvey works primarily for the permanent shutdown of the nuclear power industry and the birth of Solartopia, a democratic and socially just green-powered Earth free of all fossil and nuclear fuels.