News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The struggles for renewable, redeemable, and redumbable energy


The attempt to move America off dependency on petroleum, and therefore on foreign suppliers who are not terribly friendly to the American way of life, is stalled. Not because there are no viable alternatives to the burning of carbon-based fuels, but because of political loyalties and postures and dedication to causes. A significant number of people would rather put on demonstrations of screwing the pooch in public than actually ridding the U.S. of its dependencies and the polluting effects of old energy.

Many people on the right are chortling with glee over the stalled creation of green energy jobs. When one reads over the punditry on energy, one must confront the fact that the right has moved to a position where it swears more obeisance and loyalty to the global oil companies than it does to the nation of the U.S.A. This affinity for big oil became particularly pronounced a year ago during the BP Gulf oil spew. When the Obama administration announced its determination to hold BP financially accountable for stopping the oil leak, cleaning up the mess, and compensating the people whose livelihoods it destroyed, the GOP immediately screamed that the administration was making a communist-like intrusion and takeover of a private industry. For the party that is constantly harping on private citizens being responsible for what they do with their lives, and regards corporations as persons, it is very tolerant and permissive about what corporations do to other people's lives and livelihoods. It applies quite a different, worshipful standard to corporations.

The lack of growth of jobs in the renewable energy field stems from the same conditions that affect the creation of jobs in other industries. The manufacture of solar panels illustrates the problems. At this time, the U.S. exports about $2 billion more in solar panels than it imports. Since 2010, it has increased its exports 100 percent. The U.S. has developed the technology of solar panels, but it finds it difficult to compete with the Chinese and Pacific nations that move in on the manufacturing sector. A German-owned manufacturer of solar panels has had to close down some plants in the U.S and has announced the closure of one in Tuscon because it can't compete with China.

There is one factor about the renewable energy business that is not given sufficient significance in what is happening with the American economy. Many of the companies in the business in the U.S. are foreign companies. They came to take advantage of the developing technology, but take the actual manufacturing of equipment out of the country where the labor is cheaper. The two large wind farms near Aberdeen are foreign owned. Tatanka located north of Aberdeen is Spanish-owned and the Wessington Springs Wind Project is Australian-owned. Existing American energy companies give some tepid lip service to renewable energy, but they put their developmental and lobbying efforts into keeping America tied to their gas and petroleum and coal-fueled electricity. The foreign orientation of the renewable energy companies and the resistance to renewable energy by the established American energy companies are the reason renewable energy jobs are not being created in America.

The right in America dismisses renewable energy as a passing fad that has no practical possibility. They cite the spectacle of wind generators strewn over the landscape and huge solar panel farms taking up acres and acres and land to produce limited amounts of energy subject to the whims of wind and clouds. They dismiss the fact that these sources are supplying increasing amounts of energy, that devices for storing energy are being developed, and that foreign and developing nations are pushing hard to develop renewable sources.

China not only produces solar panels that are among the cheapest on the world market, but it is also one of the biggest users. However, in addition to solar energy, China has multiple projects for creating other forms of clean, renewable energy. One of those projects is the introduction of biogas generators in its remote rural regions which have had to heat and cook on wood fires. The biogas generator is a comparatively simple concrete tank into which animal wastes are put and allowed to decay and generate gas which is run into the homes through plastic tubes. Rather than start a wood fire and deal with smoke and ashes, the people simply light their gas burners and cook away, and find the improvement a huge contribution to their lives.

However, in distributing and providing subsidies for building these biomass generators, the Chinese are utilizing a principle that was operative in the building of America's successful agriculture. Rather than making huge central power plants from which energy is distributed, they are making the biogas units part of individual homesteads, in effect making the rural homesteads energy independent.

The development of American agriculture was built on an operative principle of energy independence. Farms typically had wood lots. The fuel for heating home and supplying farm labor was homegrown. Farmers feared any conveniences that would make them dependent on businesses. When electricity did become available, it was hard to convince farmers to electrify more than their milking barns, where turning on a light switch at pre-dawn milking time was indisputably superior to fooling around with kerosene lanterns.  Giving up their independence and self-sufficiency was to give up those things that made farm life secure.  Whatever economic upturns and downturns came, farm families worked to heat and feed themselves.  Consolidation of farming through vertical and horizontal integration with corporate dependencies has changed farming so much that independence and self-sufficiency are long forgotten goals of rural life.

Private residences are powered by solar photo-voltaic panels.
In providing energy for American homes the concept of self-sufficiency is still operative to some degree.  Some farms have their own wind generators and plans are developed to store energy in the from of hydrogen which can fuel on-farm generators and drive farm machinery and vehicles.  Individual homes can be powered through on-roof solar panels.

The replacement of old planet-devastating, atmosphere-damaging energy with a renewable, clean energy was never to conceived to come about by developing a source that would have the monolithic hold on the economy that oil does.  It was conceived as the development of many, complementary sources that would be vested in local and regional production facilities.  Such a shift requires leadership and coordination.  In many other countries the necessary leadership and coordination and support is in evidence.  China keeps emerging as an innovator in the field.  America lags far behind.  The American right wing puts up a stiff resistance to any attempts to make the conversion to renewable, clean, affordable energy, largely  because they think it is a liberal cause. The Internet abounds with examples of grossly false portrayals of the progressive thinking on energy.  The right is perfectly satisfied to let corporations rule the world.

While America has been extremely respectful and careful not to permit drilling for oil that threatens harm to the planet, the oil companies and the right wing advocate wholesale exploitation with little regard to its effects on the environment and the food supply.  Unable to drill at will in the American-controlled arctic, Exxon Mobil has just closed a deal with Russia to develop the arctic oil fields controlled by that country.  Such developments show clearly that corporations have little interest in the countries they are aligned with except for the purposes of exploitation.  And it shows just as clearly that they have no interest in plans to wean the country off of oil and replace it with clean, renewable sources.

There won't be many jobs in green energy in America, but the arctic oil fields controlled by Russia will see quite an employment boost.  Environmentalists are accused by the right of opposing any energy development and desiring restrictions that prevent energy development.  Other countries, including China, think that development of oil fields should be undertaken as very short-term measures to make the transition from oil to renewable energy.  And they also see that they have to offer support and coordination to make that transition possible.

Meanwhile, America which has developed most of the technology that develops and utilizes green energy lets other countries appropriate it, while America drills, builds new pipelines, removes regulations, and opens up more parts of the world to the kind of disaster that we experienced with BP in the Gulf.

The right wing likes to berate Obama for confronting American mistakes and they blame him for pushing America into second-rate nation status.  Meanwhile other countries leap ahead by developing clean, affordable energy and expending efforts to get control of the messes created by the old forms of energy.

Exxon Mobil has allied itself with one of the most corrupt systems of exploitation and control in the world.  That is where the American right want to take us.


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