Power To The People Not Easy

Politics and economics are the key factors driving the energy policy of the USA. Al Gore of course is the current poster child for the latest buzz phrase “carbon footprint.”

Controversy and lobbying over electricity goes back to the days of Edison and Tesla as they vied for acceptance of “their” methods of generation and transmission. The laws of regulators often conflict with the laws of physics and common sense.

During these dog days of summer with plenty of sun it is easy to sit back and declare “solar power is the answer.” It can certainly play a role in energy production, but it is not the ANSWER.
When we drive around the country and see huge windmill farms–or just rows of them here in Idaho–we notice for the most part they are not spinning. That causes cries of, “What a waste of resources.”

Then there is nuke power–potentially an economic savior for the USA energy needs–safe if properly monitored and proper disposal of waste can be mastered.
In the West the old standby of course is hydropower and there are folks who want to do away with the dams.
With vast reserves of coal and natural gas, these “fossil fuels” are also popular to create heat to boil water that makes steam pressure to spin a generating turbine.
Lest we forget, our corn crops have doubled in value as political pressure has mounted to inject 10% of each gallon of gas with ethanol. The likes of ADM and a few other agribusinesses benefit, but at the expense of anyone who eats anything with corn syrup, eggs, chicken, pork, milk, beef or a host of other foods. Corn is king and when it is fermented to make alcohol we all suffer.
Finally, there are vast geothermal resources scattered around the west, but they are expensive to tap and the technology is not the best at present.

At the risk of a bad pun, the GUARDIAN will try to “shed some light” on the subject while offering a forum for all concerned. We will offer anecdotal evidence from decades of personally covering the subject for the likes of the NEW YORK TIMES, TIME, and NEWSWEEK.

Here in Idaho we are blessed with plenty of wind, sun, hot water, rushing rivers, and home to the first place on earth to harness nuke power for electricity. Problem is, th__mg_7799.jpgmost of us are hooked to power lines owned and operated by a utility monopoly–usually Idaho Power.

Politicos require the monopoly to have enough generating capacity to provide juice during “peak load” to those of us who flip switches and heat water. Those same politicos tell them to buy electricity from just about anyone who can make volts on their own.

That is like telling Ford to make enough cars for everyone in the USA, but they have to buy from Toyota and GM if they happen to have more than they can sell. It is insanity!…and not good business for the monopoly. As a result, the monopoly negotiates “maximum rates” of production they are forced to purchase from the so-called “little guys.”

It really gets complicated when the big guys get in to the business of owning a batch of “little guys” and buying and selling to themselves–regardless of the generating source.
Toss in the greenies who hate/fear nuke, those who want to breach the dams, the local politicos who ENCOURAGE growth for the sake of “jobs,” and you have a situation that is nearly insurmountable.

ALL of the energy sources have their place, but until we do away with subsidies and lobbyists, the world will be in a quandary. The problem is HUMAN, not TECHNICAL. Sadly, the only way we can see it working is to have a single power provider owning all the energy sources–like a national energy authority. Many cities and counties have co-ops or boards that run utilities.

When the profit motive is in the equation, most of us seem to come up with negative numbers.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that an answer is NOT to have energy nationalized. Giving that power to the same government that has run up huge deficits, will run social security and medicare into the ground, that feeds their own egos and spends money on those that give them money is certainly not the answer. Plus no job, no matter how peripheral or unneeded ever goes away. Government just does not know how to keep costs low because there is no incentive to do so.

    Another answer NOT to have is deregulating electrical power. California and Texas are poster children for what happens when you do that. It may be wonderful at first, but it quickly devolves to price gouging and extremely high prices.

  2. The Guardian summarizes well the problem with some of the power supply methods (sun works fine when it’s shining), but then slips in:
    “Then there is nuke power—potentially an economic savior for the USA energy needs—safe if properly monitored and proper disposal of waste can be mastered.”
    Kind like saying sun is a potentially economic savior if we can keep it shining 24 hours a day, or wind is the savior if we can keep it blowing at a steady speed all the time.
    Someday, somebody may figure out a way to keep nuke plants safe. Someday somebody may figure out how to dispose of waste safely. And someday somebody may figure out how to keep the wind blowing at a steady pace. (Better not mess with the sun).
    In the meantime, using what we can from solar, wind, geothermal, tide, waves, hydro etc. seems to be the only route to go … adjusting the ratios of these various forms as the technology of each improves.
    And conservation, of course — it helps only a little bit, but every little bit helps.

  3. Shed some light on it? If you are looking for a posting bonanza I think you got it. You’ve tossed enough slop into the trough that the piggies will be blocking out the sun to get a better position.

    IMHO the cost of energy in Idaho is not excessive, at $4 a gallon for gas I only spend $260 a month in gas. Just got my electricity bill for A/C and all my TV’s and computers last month, $120. Heck, a night out with dinner and a concert for two is over $120 a night.

  4. Frankly, the quicker we get to $10/gallon for gasoline the sooner we will see viable alternatives at all levels of energy supply and useage.

    All options need to be on the table. Including the requirement for the extraction industries to use their leases or lose them.

    Here we are 35 years, give or take, since we got squeezed by the arabs during the Nixon years and still no National Energy Plan for energy independence. Even Brazil figured this one out a long long time ago.

    I am going to vote for candidates that quit whining and actually do something about a National Energy Policy.

  5. Thanks for posting this review of the energy situation. I have to take issue with a few of your assertions.

    Re: nuclear power, you wrote, “Toss in the greenies who hate/fear nuke…” Here you are just perpetuating the old cliche that anti-nukers are hysterics who don’t know when to quit, that their opposition to the nuke industry is based only on hate or fear….a journalistic chestnut that needs to be impounded and ‘fixed’!

    You can find plenty of criticism of some of the nuke issues right on DOE websites. Aside from the fact that safe disposal of nuclear radioactive wastes continues to be an unsolved problem (which you recognise), another issue of importance (that tends to get laughed off by the constitutional sneerers) is the vulnerability to enemy attacks of nuclear power plant waste storage pools and also research stations, like the Livermore Nuke Lab in the Bay Area. This issue is graphically underlined by the results of a government-simulated attack on this facility, reported here in a TIME article from May of this year:,8599,1739535,00.html

    You also support expanded R&D for wind, solar and geothermal, but you attack government subsidies. IMO, subsidies are necessary to get the ball rolling on new industries; therefore, they should be cut off from the mature oil and gas industries and instead moved to subsidising the renewables of wind, solar, and geothermal. California, which produces about 2/3ds of US geothermal energy as it is now, also subsidises geothermal R&D. [See,]

    Cheers, Jo

    Jul 22, 2008, 4:52 pm


  7. Tom Anderson
    Jul 23, 2008, 2:54 pm

    The worlds true energy experts are saying that we will implement all alternative and renewable energy sources. They will as a composite, however, never provide more than about 25% of our current energy useage.

    Nuclear plants are not a panacea. It takes more energy to create and run the plant and mine the uranium than the plant will ever produce.

    Oil shale is not economically viable and probably will never be.

    There is only perhaps a 13 year supply of economically viable extractable coal left according to the most recent book, ‘Big Coal’.

    To summarize the situation, fossil fuels are going to get much more expensive, and we will be very dissapointed with renewables and alternatives.

  8. “Corn is king and when it is fermented to make alcohol we all suffer.”
    UH, doesn’t that depend some on if it’s for bourbon or ethoanol and on your opinion of each?

    A small revolution could begin with everyone making a small amount of their own power — by solar, wind, etc. and not wait for the big guys to get the big transmission questions answered. As was noted earlier, every little bit helps — including continued conservation.

  9. Darn — I still have a typo — I know, I know, it is ethanol.

  10. Guardian said … “Controversy and lobbying over electricity goes back to the days of Edison and Westinghouse as they vied for acceptance of “their” methods of generation and transmission. …”

    Seems to me it was Edison and Tesla that battled it out over AC re DC, etc., no?

  11. Tom Anderson
    Jul 24, 2008, 2:02 pm

    Anne has it right.

    Big solutions create monopolies and huge profits for the fortunate few.

    The best answer for the people of America is distributed generation, the best of which is solar panels. They are actually still coming down in price as all other forms, including wind power, go up.

  12. First of all global warming is a hoax!
    The earth heats and cools all of the time,man is NOT the cause!
    Until we find other alternatives, OIL is our friend, LIVE WITH IT! If oil gets to 10.00 a gal. you will be out of a job along with the rest of us!! Wake Up Now!!

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