Corporate Crime, Wind Turbine Noise, French Nuclear Accident, and More

This installment of the Energy Flashes feature touched briefly on over a dozen topics, including a corporate crime penalty that benefitted the company responsible, wind turbine noise, and a French nuclear accident.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
September/October 1980
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A new generator enabled a large wind turbine in Boone, North Carolina to turn more slowly while still producing power, thus reducing wind turbine noise.

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A CORPORATE CRIME PAYOFF: From 1967 to 1977 Texaco, Inc. diverted a vast amount of natural gas from public lands for its own use, and was ordered by the U.S. government to sell the pipelines an equal quantity of fuel over the next 10 years. It's said that the "penalty" will—because of today's higher natural gas prices—increase Texaco's gross profits by at least $373 million!

LET THEM EAT FROZEN CAKE, TOO! People who can't afford fuel this coming winter can turn to a "self-help booklet" issued by the federal government's Community Services Administration. The publication explains—through the use of text and diagrams—how to wrap yourself with newspapers.

THE BLIMP IS BACK (ALMOST): Goodyear Aerospace Corp. of Akron, Ohio has designed a new lighter-than-air craft equipped with four helicopter rotors and four propellers, all of which are driven by small jet engines. Called a "heavy-lift" vehicle, the airship should be capable of carrying loads up to 75 tons.

BUREAUCRACY BLUES: When a Michigan applicant sought a grant from the Energy Research and Development Administration's $10 million loan fund—which was set up to finance work that might bring about solutions to the energy shortage—he was advised that there was only $1 million left ... as $9 million had gone for "administrative expenses."

WIND TURBINE NOISE: The "swish-swish" noise made by the 200-foot-long blade of the world's largest windmill—in Boone, North Carolina—brought so many complaints from residents that the machine had to be shut down at night and on weekends. A new generator will drop the blade's rotation speed from 35 to 23 RPM. And if that move doesn't cure the noise problem, the DOE plans to replace the steel unit with fiberglass.

UNFAIR PLAY: A package of "educational materials" issued to the Austin, Texas school district contained a board game called "Energy Quest." Similar to Monopoly, it teaches children that a nuclear power plant costs a mere $150,000 ... less than an Energy Quest solar installation (totally centralized, of course) and less than most of the game's coal and gas utilities, as well.

GOOD NEWS! As of July 1, 1980 changes in the alcohol fuel production law eliminate the need for a bond on alcohol fuel stills which produce no more than 10,000 proof-gallons per year. Producers may also sell their excess ethanol for fuel use, and both applications and record-keeping procedures have been simplified.

THE "SOLAR TIPI" has been invented by Brad Niblett, the 26-year-old president of Shelter Systems in Taos, New Mexico. A clear panel on one side of the structure allows sunlight to heat up a waterbed during the day, and the stored warmth is then radiated at night. "It's so simple," says Brad, "I can't believe no one did it before!"

THE CALIFORNIA PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION has ordered the state's utilities to finance, at little or no interest, the installation of insulation and energy-saving equipment in customers' homes ... to provide $600 million in low-interest loans for solar water heaters ... and to purchase excess power—at high rates—from cogeneration, geothermal, biomass, small hydro, and wind projects.

FRENCH NUCLEAR ACCIDENT: Were you aware that, last April 15, a fire at a nuclear spent-fuel reprocessing plant in La Hague, France knocked out all electricity ... which—in turn—blacked out the main computer, shut down the system controlling radioactive contamination, cut off all ventilation for ten hours, and. made the installation's phones useless?

BIG AND STILL GROWING: The top 20 American oil companies control 85%of the nation's oil refining plants ... 92.9% of its known oil reserves ... 70% of the nation's natural-gas production facilities ... and 44.2% of U.S. natural gas reserves. Seven of these companies also own l8% of U.S. coal reserves (compared with 1% in 1965) ... and Kerr-McGee, Atlantic Richfield, and Exxon produced 38.4% of the nation's nuclear fuel in 1979 (up from 21% in a 15-year period).

FURTHERMORE ... the oil industry has become the single largest business donor to federal election campaigns, having contributed about one out of every ten dollars given to each winning Congressional candidate.

INSTEAD OF AN "ALL-ELECTRIC KITCHEN," a new housing development's billboard near Charlottesville, Virginia promises "a free woodstove in every home" .... Two new government "energy centers"at Tifton, Georgia and Peoria, Illinois hope to help make farms and ranches ENERGY SELF-SUFFICIENT IN TEN YEARS through experiments in biomass for fuel alcohol, solar heat, methane gas, wind power, and the production of hydrocarbons and oils from vegetation to be used as petrochemical substitutes .... THE WORLD'S FIRST COMMERCIALSCALE, BINARY-CYCLE GEOTHERMAL POWER PLANT is being constructed in California's Imperial Valley, and will be capable of producing 50 megawatts of electricity when it goes into service in the fall of 1984 .... The General Electric Company, which has built 40% of the operating nuclear power units in the U.S. and the non-Communist world—and is involved in almost every phase of the nuclear cycle, from uranium mining to waste disposal—admits that its commercial nuclear division HAS BEEN OPERATING AT A LOSS SINCE 1976!  

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