Thursday, April 06, 2006

Power Lines in the 24th District Race for Congress

Yesterday, the talk of the race was an article that came out in the Oneonta Daily star describing candidates'reserved yet open reaction to the possibility of a new high power electrical line to run through the 24th district, built by New York Regional Interconnect Inc. The line would transmit electricity from the west into New York City and Long Island.

All the candidates, Republican and Democrat, gave approximately the same response to the project: It could be good for the district, but they want more information about the project and potential negative effects before they give it their endorsement.

That's a fine initial position, but the candidates need to move beyond it. This new power line gives candidates a good chance to talk about their energy policies in a broader sense. We in the 24th district should not be reacting to energy projects in a piecemeal manner. We need a representative in Congress who has a broader vision of energy policy.

Even Republicans are coming to the grudging conclusion that the 20th century's energy infrastructure isn't going to cut it for much longer. The high cost of oil is just one symptom of an energy system stretched close to its limit. I was trapped down in Queens during that huge power outage a few summers back, caught with less than a quarter tank of gas in the middle of a huge area in which all the gas stations had no power for their pumps.

America can't afford to be that vulnerable, but our energy infrastructure depends on a relatively few immense sources of power that supply large areas. If those few power sources go down, or the lines of transmission - like this new one they're proposing to go through our district - fail, our civilization grinds to a halt.

Les Roberts is the only candidate who has gone beyond general statements about the need investment and research in energy. Roberts has an imaginative concept for reworking the fundamental structure that America relies upon for the production and transmission of energy. Roberts says,
"Half a century ago, John Kennedy challenged the country to put a man on the Moon within ten years. As a result, energy and money was infused into public schools. Research was initiated at universities, and wonderful economic ripple effects went through society. I think, today, our need to wean ourselves of foreign oil is far greater than our need was 40 years ago to put a man on the Moon. If we had an Apollo-like initiative to promote research into alternative energy sources, to implement energy resources that are out there and promote energy conservation in our homes, we would create a lot of jobs here in the 24th District.

We've got some big advantages here. Wind generation of electricity has already proven itself to be cost effective here, locally. Because of our dramatic temperature changes between the seasons, geothermal and hydrothermal have a lot of potential here. Also, we have five times more universities in the 24th District than is the norm in this country. We're exceedingly endowed with universities, and if research activities and activities for young people who have just finished their degrees existed, we would benefit disproportionately. On some visceral level, all of us understand the lack of a coherent energy policy we have right now, every time we fill up our cars with gas or pay our monthly heating bills."

What would this new Apollo Mission for Energy look like, and how would it be funded? (I like the use of the "Apollo Mission" name, because it harkens back to the enthusiasm America put into the space race, and also refers to the ultimate source of most of Earth's energy - as Apollo was the Greek sun god)

We all know that there's a great deal of government waste right now. The Republicans in the White House and Congress have been expanding government spending at a faster rate than any time since World War II. The problem is that the Republicans, in addition to putting America in huge debt, are spending the money in all the wrong places.

So, imagine if we could take the hundreds of billions of dollars we're now spending on the war in Iraq, plus the hundreds of billions of dollars we're spending on building the Star Wars Missile Defense System - even though the technology to make it work has still not yet been developed, after 20 years of research, plus the billions more every year that Bush is devoting to creating a colony on the Moon, plus money huge government welfare given to oil companies and other energy corporations, and all the other money the Republicans are wasting on projects like the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska, and instead directed all that money into two places:

1. Half that money goes to pay down the national debt and and reducing the budget deficit, so that we can get back to the days of budget surpluses America enjoyed before the Republicans took complete control of the federal government.

2. The other half of that huge amount of money is devoted to an Apollo Energy Mission, which includes the following components:

  • Creation of a new generation of local, small-to-mid-sized energy generation systems using clean and efficient technologies that exist now. These systems are to be locally-based and operated, so that every area of the United States becomes more self-sufficient in energy production. Different areas would use the technologies most appropriate to their areas: Solar energy in the South and Southwest, wave-generated electricity in coastal areas, geothermal energy in geologically active areas like the West, and wind power across much of the rest of the country.

  • Small-scale government grants for homeowners to install updated, efficient home energy products.

  • Dramatically-expanded research into clean and efficient technologies for local, small-scale energy production.

    Redirecting wasted government spending into the Apollo Energy Mission would create a distributed system of energy production that is no longer vulnerable to attacks, flaws or accidents in the way that our centralized system is. The new Apollo Mission would pump money into the local economies of every congressional district across the USA, and create huge numbers of local jobs. The project would also dramatically reduce the cost of energy, improving the standard of living for every family and increasing the profitability of American businesses as well.

    The 24th district would receive the extra economic benefits of increased investment in energy research. We've got the kind of educational institutions in our area that could take part in the new research efforts, earning funding, creating jobs, and putting more money out into our district's communities, keeping our main street economies alive.

    Think that the Apollo Energy Mission is just some liberal fantasy that mainstream independent voters and Republicans will never expect? Think again: Moderate and Republican voters are becoming increasingly eager to see a new direction in America's energy infrastructure, and are receptive to these kinds of ideas. Take, for example, the reaction of one of this blog's regular Republican readers, when I proposed this idea to him:

    "...this is *exactly* how I think we as a people should be building political consensus. It's a given that there are some things we're just never going to agree on. Why can't the grassroots from *both* sides pressure their candidates to embrace ideas like this that we can agree on? Efficient solar would send our economy into overdrive and would, quite literally, give us the power to solve a myriad of problems here in the US and around the world."

    This doesn't have to be a partisan issue. The Apollo Energy Initiative is pro-environment, but it's also pro-business, and pro-security. A new, resilient, efficient energy system will make America stronger from the bottom up - and we all want that, no matter what our politics are. The candidate who can take an issue like this and present it in credible detail in a compelling way to voters will be the candidate to win the Democratic primary and the general election.

    JasonSpalding said...

    Did you know that the top 30 nations based on dues paid to the United Nations are in a combined debt external as of June 2005 nearly $34 trillion U.S. dollars? With the population of the world given by U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division the debt of every person on the planet is just over $5,000. Norway is the only country that does not have any debts external. My question is who holds the debt?

    Anonymous said...

    I don't know about the rest of the world but China holds most of OUR debt paper. Add the trade deficit with them and China owns us right now. The Saudis own a fair percentage of the country's assets too, including huge interest in Disneyworld of all things. No wonder those neocons treat them like they aren't the scum balls they are. The guys who hit our buildings came from there and we land in Iraq. Worse yet, Most of America thought that made sense.