Renewable Energy: An Idea Whose Time is Now: Obstacles and Opportunities
Left Forum, June 9, 2013
Despite promising reports and overwhelming factual evidence that it is totally possible to wean ourselves off of polluting and death delivering energy systems—fossil, nuclear, and industrial biomass—which are threatening planetary destruction and public health around the globe-- the common conversation about the possibilities for a safe clean energy future has been distorted in the media-- muddled by the energy corporations, peddling their toxic fuels by flooding the airwaves with false advertising and corrupting our elected leaders with hundreds of millions of dollars spent in lobbying and campaign contributions to buy their twisted votes.
This month, Common Cause, New York issued a report, "Generating Influence: Entergy's Spending and the Battle over the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant" [i] noting that Entergy, the owner of Indian Point, between 2005 and 2012, spent over $4.5 million in New York State and $35.6 million in Washington on political contributions and lobbying.
Indian Point, sitting on the Hudson River only 25 miles from New York, is applying for a 20 year license renewal for the 40 year old plant. Its operating license expired this year, although the industry-dominated Nuclear Regulatory Commission unprecedentedly allows it to continue operating without a license, since they have yet to decide on the renewal application which was submitted four years ago. [ii] Indian Point has the distinct advantage of having been mentioned in Al Quaida’s documents and the 911 Commission Report, as a possible target, at the time the World Trade Center was destroyed in NYC. It is sitting on an earthquake fault, and has been spewing radioactive tritium, cesium and other noxious poisons into the Hudson River, killing billions of fish, and fish eggs a year with higher incidences of childhood cancer and leukemia reported in the local area. Its radioactive waste pools, have built up more than four times the radioactive waste materials that the catastrophic Fukushima accident continues to spew out across the world.
In reporting on Entergy’s efforts to manipulate the public debate over whether its license should be renewed, Common Cause notes that in addition to campaign contributions and lobbying, Entergy has developed a grassroots “astroturfing” campaign, hiring one of the most sophisticated PR firms, Burson Marsteller, to create the appearance of public support to perpetuate the life of this unsafe accident waiting to happen. Entergy established two shill front-group organizations, NY AREA and SHARE, which hide their connection to their corporate sponsor while attempting to exert influence on its behalf. [iii]They have hired former NY Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, to hawk for Indian Point in slick commercials, both print and TV, as a provider of safe, clean, energy, with the ex-Mayor threatening that New Yorkers will have to contend with blackouts if the plant closes, despite numerous studies indicating that the city doesn’t need Indian Point to meet its energy needs. [iv]
Then there are the factual distortions raised in the media about the oil industry’s efforts to mine the filthy tar sands in northern Canada and pipe in millions of gallons of the dirtiest, most carbon-laden oil clear across America, from Canada to New Orleans, adding to the catastrophic consequences we are facing if we don’t rein in our use of fossil fuel. Corrupt member of Congress falsely argue that as many as 20,000 jobs would be created by the project. USA Today touted that number in a headline, “Obama Rejects Keystone Pipeline: Business Leaders, GOP Say Decision Kills 20,000 New Jobs.”[v], despite a Cornell University Global Labor Institute finding that the pipeline would add only 500 to 1400 temporary construction jobs. [vi] Obama only delayed the decision temporarily and is now still considering whether to inflict it on the land.
Numerous studies show that green energy jobs are growing faster than traditional jobs. A Pew Charitable Trust report found that between 1998 and 2007, jobs in the clean energy economy grew at a national rate of 9.1 percent while traditional jobs grew by only 3.7 percent. By 2007, more than 68,200 businesses across all 50 states and the District of Columbia accounted for more than 770,000 green energy jobs, despite a lack of sustained government support in the past decade.[vii] A 2011 Brookings Institute Report found that the clean-economy sector includes 2.7 million jobs. The oil and gas industry, by contrast, has 2.4 million jobs. Its study, called "Sizing the Clean Economy," cited jobs scattered across more than 41,000 companies nationwide, not just in clean energy industries like solar and wind power, but emerging fields like greenhouse-gas reduction, environmental management, recycling, and air and water purification technologies. Smart-grid efforts directly employ nearly 16,000 people, and battery technology about the same. Conservation accounts for a big chunk, with 314,000 jobs, as does public mass transit – 350,000 jobs. Add to that wind power and solar power, with about 24,000 direct jobs each, and sustainable forestry products with 61,000.[viii]
A report this year by the Economic Policy Institute, analyzing 2012 data on green jobs from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, concluded that “greener industries grow faster than the overall economy”, finding that the productions of green goods and services created 3.1 million jobs in the US. Green jobs were defined as those which "benefit the environment or conserve natural resources" in either their process or output such as jobs in renewable energy, efficiency, pollution reduction and other traditionally "green" industries, along with jobs in any industry in which workers’ duties involve making procedures more energy efficient or environmentally benign.
EPI found that those states which have a higher share of employment in green jobs,[ix] like California, New York and Texas, generally fared better in the current economic downturn. EPI’s statistical analysis found that a one percent increase in a particular industry's "green intensity," or share of employment in green jobs, corresponded with a 0.034 increase in annual employment growth in the last decade. The report noted that green jobs are still accessible to workers that don't hold a college degree. A one percent increase in green intensity in a given industry corresponded with a 0.28 percent "increase in the share of jobs in that industry held by workers without a four-year college degree."[x]
Working against the momentum to move to a green energy economy, industry has been able to influence government policy to continue to subsidize polluting fossil, nuclear, and industrial biomass industries at much higher levels than funds made available to clean safe, sun, wind, geothermal and hydropower. The International Energy Agency estimates indicate that fossil-fuel consumption subsidies worldwide amounted to $523 billion in 2011, up from $412 billion in 2010. In comparison, subsidies to renewable energies were $88 billion dollars. [xi] And the IEA figure doesn’t include the $50 billion a year or so which the US was giving to the Pentagon even in peace time, just to protect the sea lanes for the oil tankers plying their way across the oceans with their toxic cargoes. [xii]
The Obama administration has announced an $8.3 billion subsidy to build two new nuclear reactors in Georgia—the first new ones to be built since the catastrophe at Three Mile Island,[xiii] giving short shrift to the greatest industrial tragedy the world has ever experienced—the melt down of four nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan two years ago. Germany, Sweden, Spain, Italy and Belgium have agreed to phase out nuclear power, but the United States is in the grip of a nuclear industry, which keeps insisting that nuclear power is the answer to global warming because it doesn’t emit carbon during its operation. This is another gross industry distortion since there are fossil costs associated with the whole nuclear fuel chain—from mining, milling and processing uranium to the decommissioning at the end of the reactor’s lifetime. And a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, The Gift That Keeps on Giving, estimates that the nuclear industry has received hundreds of billions of dollars over the past 50 years from the US taxpayer, for every aspect of the nuclear chain, including liability insurance to cap catastrophic losses, to up to $12 billion, with any additional charges to be borne by the taxpayers.[xiv] It is estimated that Fukushima will cost as much as one trillion dollars! [xv] Things are looking up though. Just this Friday it was announced that the hazardous San Onofre plant in California will be shut down. Others that have announced closures in the past year were the Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts, Keawaunee in Wisconsin and Crystal River in Florida. Four down, 100 more to go in the US!
Every 30 minutes, enough of the sun’s energy reaches the earth’s surface to meet global energy demand for an entire year. Wind can satisfy
the world’s electricity
needs 40 times over, and meet all global energy demands five times over. The geo thermal
energy stored in the top six miles
of the earth’s crust contains 50,000
times the energy of the world’s known oil and gas resources. Tidal, wave
and small hydropower, can also provide vast stores of energy everywhere on
earth, abundant and free for every person on our planet, rich and poor
alike. From water, broken down by solar
or wind-powered electrolysis into hydrogen and oxygen, we can make and store
hydrogen fuel in cells to be used when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind
doesn’t blow. When hydrogen fuel is
burned, it recombines with oxygen and produces water vapor, pure enough to
drink, with no contamination added to the planet. Iceland plans to be completely sustainable by
2050, using hydrogen in its vehicles, trains, busses and ships, made from
geothermal and marine energy. [xvi]
New research and reports are affirming the possibilities for shifting the global energy paradigm. Scientific American reported a plan in 2009 to power 100% of the planet by 2030 with only solar, wind and water renewables, calling for millions of wind turbines, water machines and solar installations to accomplish that task. The authors assert that “the scale is not an insurmountable hurdle; society has achieved massive transformations before”, reminding us that “[d]uring World War II, the U.S retooled automobile factories to produce 300,000 aircraft and other countries produced 486,000 more”. Their scenario for 2030 contemplates, in part, building 3.8 million windmills to provide 51% of the world’s energy demand which would take up less than 50 square kilometers (smaller than Manhattan). They reassure us that even though the number seems enormous, the world manufactures 73 million cars and lights trucks every year.
The authors review the policies that would need to be in place to make the energy transition, such as taxes on fossil fuels, or at least the elimination of existing subsidies for fossil and nuclear energy to level the playing field, and an intelligently expanded grid to ensure rapid deployment of clean energy sources. [xvii]
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also issued a Report in 2010, 100% Renewable Energy which outlined a scenario for relying on 100% renewables by 2050. [xviii]
The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN) released their 2012 Renewables Global Status Report and had encouraging news to report:[xix]
· Renewable sources supplied 16.7% of global final energy consumption.
· 118 countries –more than half in the developing world– implemented RE targets.
· Investment in renewables increased 17% to a record $257 billion, despite a widening sovereign debt crisis in Europe and rapidly falling prices for renewable power equipment.
· Photovoltaic module prices dropped by 50% and onshore wind turbines by close to 10%, bringing the price of the leading renewable power technologies closer to grid parity with fossil fuels such as coal and gas.
· Recent estimates indicate that about 5 million people worldwide work either directly or indirectly in the renewable energy industries.
· The majority of renewables jobs worldwide are located in a handful of major economies, namely China, Brazil, the United States, and the European Union where the renewable energy sector contributes 1.1 million jobs
· Developing countries have begun to track green energy jobs; India estimated 350,000 in 2009.
Yet despite these encouraging reports and facts on the ground, the corporate dominated media is still beating the drums for continued reliance on fossil, nuclear and industrial biomass fuels. It is obvious that they will do all they can to block the development of green energy because they will lose their cash cows. Once the infrastructure is in, they can’t sell the sun, or the wind or the tides the way they can peddle coal, oil, gas, uranium, and biomass.
We mustn't buy into the propaganda that clean safe energy is decades away or too costly. We need to be vigilant in providing the ample evidence in its favor to counter the corporate forces arguing that it’s not ready, it’s years away, it’s too expensive—arguments made by companies in the business of producing dirty fuel.
Here’s what Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to say about similar forces in 1936:
We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace--business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.[xx]
These are the enormous forces we must overcome. I heard Ralph Nader speak this week about his new book, I Told You So, at Barnes and Noble. Ralph is suggesting that we all organize Town Meetings this August with our members of Congress and address an issue of such unfairness, that it would be easy to build huge alliances and coalitions—that is to raise the minimum wage. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, way below what’s needed to earn even the unrealistically low federal poverty definition of $18,123 per year for a family of three. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage in 1968 would be above $10.50 per hour. Go to www.timeforaraise.org If we are truly the Left Forum we should be helping tens of millions of Americans currently struggling to make ends meet. And despite the general breast beating and bemoaning the loss of jobs to globalization, we know there could be tens of millions of jobs right here in America if we repair our infrastructure and stop the corporate rape of the earth by shifting to a green and sustainable future.
Woolf, Tim, et al. “Indian Point Replacement Analysis: A Clean Energy Roadmap: A Proposal for Replacing the Nuclear Plant with Clean, Sustainable Energy Resources.” Synapse Energy Economics. Cambridge, Massachusetts. October 11, 2012. Available at: http://www.riverkeeper.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Synapse-Indian-Point-Replacement-Study--11.pdf_;.New York Assembly member James F. Brennan and New York Assembly member Kevin A. Cahill. “Assembly Committees’ Preliminary Findings Show Indian Point Can Be Shut Down: Proper planning would allow Indian Point to close with little impact on ratepayers and reliability.” February 1, 2012. Available at http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/James-F-Brennan/story/46159/; New York Independent System Operator. “Final Draft: New York State’s Transmission and Distribution Systems Reliability Study and Report.” August 30, 2012. pp. 84-85.
[v] USA Today, 1-19-12
[vi] EXTRA!, March 2012, p.3
[xii] Winning the Oil Endgame Fact Sheet, Rocky Mountain Institute.
[xvi] See generally, A Sustainable Energy Future is Possible Now, http://www.abolition2000.org/a2000-files/sustainable-now.pdf