Learn how you can fight corporate political contributions and join in activism to stop corporations blocking of renewable energy projects.
It often is said that the United States has the best politicians money can buy: Government and industry have formed a cozy liaison, and this holds particularly true in relation to energy.
Conventional electric power sources, such as coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear energy, currently receive 10 times more government subsidies than renewable energy (power from the sun, wind and water) receives.
Consider Enron: By making political contributions to candidates running against each other, Enron played both sides of the political fence. No matter who was elected, he or she was beholden to Enron and its energy interests. After the elections, Enron used its political influence and economic power to manipulate energy markets and artificially drive electric power prices sky-high. During the California blackouts of 2000, wholesale electric power prices escalated to more than 100 times their normal rate. Because local utilities couldn't afford to buy this outrageously expensive electricity, power outages ensued. This series of blackouts left California with more than $2 billion in debt.
In response to this type of "energy sharking," in 2001 the citizens of San Francisco voted "yes" to bonds that will fund more than $100 million in solar electric systems to provide clean and reliable electricity for the city. This one simple action will effectively double the number of grid-connected solar systems in San Francisco.
Across the country, citizen activism also has helped to establish net-metering laws in 38 states. These laws enable grid-connected renewable energy users/producers to sell their surplus renewable energy back to their local utility.
In almost every case, state net-metering laws were passed despite strong objections from utility companies, and enforcing these laws has been an uphill battle. Renewable energy threatens the utilities' monopoly on electric power. They are doing their best to keep renewable energy users off their grids by imposing restrictions on renewable energy systems, such as requiring unreasonable, unnecessary and expensive inspections; calling for multimillion-dollar insurance policies; and demanding expensive special electric power meters and disconnects be purchased from and installed by them at many times the normal retail cost. One homeowner in upstate New York was forced to pay $2,200 for a disconnect that could have been purchased from the local electrical supply house for less than $100.
Because renewable energy sources — the sun, wind and water — are free, and because the energy can be harvested by anyone and used anywhere, renewable energy threatens utilities' century-old monopoly and profits — they have made it, and we have bought it, lining their pockets with more than $240 billion each year.
We can fight corporate political contributions. Renewable energy technology can end utility monopolies and liberate us from a lifetime of paying monthly power hills, rendering utility power as obsolete as the slide rule.
If we are to assert our energy independence, then change must come from each of us. We cannot rely on our elected officials or utilities to initiate this change. We must adopt renewable energy as our primary energy source. Here are some powerful reasons wiry:
• Renewable energy is good for our country. Using renewable energy can make this nation safer and more independent. These energy sources do not have to be purchased, either at home or from abroad. The outflow of American dollars for energy burdens our nation's economy, and the need for nations to protect their access to declining fossil fuel reserves is a major cause of international conflicts. Many of our energy dollars spent overseas help finance terrorist activities: Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein paid for their weapons and armies with our energy dollars.
If we want a safe and economically sound nation, we must make the adoption of renewable energy part of our national strategy and Homeland Security plan.
• Renewable energy is good for our environment. Electricity produced by fossil fuel-fired power plants is the No. 1 cause of air pollution in the United States and a major source of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. And nuclear power plants have left us with a deadly legacy of radioactive waste that will endure for countless generations. Operating photovoltaic (PV) systems, solar hot water heaters, wind generators and microhydro plants creates no pollution. Renewable power is a cleaner source of energy that will not ruin our environment.
Besides being easier on our environment, renewable energy systems are durable — they may last for generations. PV panels produced in the 1970's still are kicking out electrons, with no appreciable loss of output. According to jet Propulsion Labs, a company that tests PV modules, PV panels can maintain their rated power for much longer than their warranty period, possibly for as long as 50 years or more. (Two of the PV modules that I use at home are 38 years old and still making rated power.) This is a clean and reliable energy source you can will to your children.
• Renewable energy is good for us. Renewable energy offers independence, comfort and security to a family. Once the system is bought and paid for (often at less cost than a new car), there are no utility bills to pay. When you invest in renewable energy, you are investing in your future and the future of this planet. Making your own power puts you in control of one of modern life's essentials — your electricity.
WHAT YOU CAN DO, NOW
• lnstall a home renewable energy system. This single act doesn't require changing America's political system or the century-old utility monopoly. It makes you and your family part of the solution, not part of the problem, and it helps ensure your family's independence and security.
Some determined homeowners even "go guerrilla" when their utility objects to having renewable energy on their grid; these solar guerrillas connect their systems to the grid despite the utility's objection, believing that clean, renewable energy should be welcomed by utilities. But some utilities and government entities continue to put up unreasonable barriers to interconnection, pushing common citizens to solar civil disobedience.
Utilities claim guerrilla systems can endanger line workers, but this has not been proven true. These systems share clean, renewable energy with others on tire grid, and reduce everyone's need for fossil-fuel-spewing power plants.
When interconnection for small-scale renewables becomes fair, simple and easily accessible to all, guerrilla action no longer will be needed.
• After you've liberated yourself with renewable energy, help others to do the same. Get politically active. Lobby your elected officials. Tell them you want restrictions on renewable energy removed. Insist your tax dollars be spent on renewable energy, not on Subsidies for polluting utilities. Tell them you will not fight wars over energy. Make energy an issue at the ballot box, and vote for candidates that support renewable energy.
We should turn to the sun to stop the flow of our wealth overseas and to deny terrorists the wealth they need to attack us. We should turn to the sun to revitalize our economy and to clean our environment. Renewable energy is something we can do for ourselves. We will make this transition one roof at a time, one vehicle at a time, one farm at a time. Together, we can do it.
Richard Perez is the publisher of Home Power magazine, the hands-on journal of homemade power. He has lived off-grid for 32 years. His home and office, located six miles from the nearest utility power at Agate Flat, Oregon, are powered by a 3.2-kilowatt solar array and a 1.5-kilowatt wind generator. His mission is to change the way electricity is made.