My Cape Wind Op-Ed Submitted to the Boston Globe

Monday, October 11, 2010 (Listed under Environment)

I sensed that Boston Globe's Beth Daley was somewhat biased in her view of the Cape Wind project when early in her October 10, 2010 article, entitled, "Cape Wind backers blew right by cost," she referred to the pioneering offshore wind installation as an "arresting" concept. Daley described the notion of building 130 wind turbines, capable of supplying two thirds of the electrical power required by Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard, as "too steep" an undertaking in "tough economic times."

On first glance, I chuckled…not at the humor of Daley's assertions, but rather, at the fact that as a Boston Globe writer, Daley opted to present the tired and all-too-familiar talking points of Cape Wind's opposition as the thesis for her article. Just days following Secretary Ken Salazar's proclamation that Cape Wind is “the beginning of a new era for our nation in offshore energy production” and that “responsibly developing this clean, renewable, domestic resource will stimulate investment in cutting edge technology, create good, solid jobs for American workers, and promote our nation's competitiveness, security and prosperity,” Daley's thesis sounds more like an oil lobbyist's elevator pitch than a well thought-out presentation of the facts involving American energy innovation.

By way of example, Daley spotlights the views of Robert Rio, senior vice president of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts who remarked, "...we should let the competitive market decide," suggesting that the market is, in fact, skewed to favor renewable energy innovation, when we all know that is simply not true.

On the contrary, the so called “competitive” energy market has failed to price the accurate value of energy commodities for nearly a century, ever since the first governmental subsidies were directed to the fossil fuel industries as a means to get them off the ground. Not only are they well off the ground today, but they are enjoying soaring corporate profits, thanks to well-paid lobbyists, who reap the rewards of a subsidy model that continues to be skewed in the favor of the industries they represent.

A conservative calculation is that for every $6 dollars fossil fuel industries receive in federal subsidies renewable energy companies (the truly embryonic businesses in need of a competitive boost) receive only $1. So, I ask Beth Daley, how exactly is the calculus of wind power skewing the energy market in favor of renewable energy? I ask Beth Daley if she really appreciates the simple fact that the entrenched influence of fossil fuel companies in Washington is what continues to skew the so called “free market system.”

Not only do fossil fuel companies extract unnecessary federal support to perpetrate their dangerous methods of fossil fuel exploration and distribution (Chevron's profit in the first quarter of 2010 was 60 billion dollars), but they use tax payer subsidies to incent high-powered lobbyists to protect the skewed market that has so far made it difficult (and, often times, impossible) for renewable energy projects to be competitive. These Armani-clad power brokers have essentially squeezed smaller, more sustainable alternative energy businesses out of the marketplace by dominating the political debate within Washington's beltway.

If we really had a "competitive marketplace," Daley would understand that there would have been a price established for carbon decades ago, and this valuation would have helped to reset the imbalance that continues to artificially reward fossil fuel companies and undermine what are often the “smarter,” less polluting, energy solutions that can take us into the future, safely and sustainably. For example, the coal companies that use the atmosphere as a dumping ground for their industrial emissions never pay a "user fee" for the privilege. If they did, the price of coal would be so much higher and wind power's initial investment costs would be viewed, comparatively, as a bargain.

Similarly, if oil companies had to pay for the full breadth of environmental, chemical, biological, and physical damage they impose on our planet, they would, in turn, be forced to pass that price onto the consumer. Oil would cost much more if the true or “complete” byproduct costs of its exploration, distribution, and consumption were factored into the bills consumers receive. But, because of the dysfunctional, artificial energy market, consumers don't see these costs in their energy bills, but they do, nevertheless, experience the related financial and emotional costs of oil in higher health care costs, and in the worst cases, the loss of a loved one in a foreign war, stealthy designed to protect one nation's oil interests.

If the oil, coal, and gas companies refused federal subsidies and ceased to bully officials into protecting their industries' financial advantages, the energy markets would reflect more accurate valuations of their respective commodities, and in the absence of the bully-like behaviors of so many fossil fuel dynasties, small but meaningful renewable energy innovations, such as Cape Wind, would have a fighting chance to succeed.

So, at the heart of so many people's perception is a simple, but repairable miscalculation. The energy market is, in fact, skewed against renewable energy. The billion dollar annual yields of dirty power companies only reinforce this point.

There exists a twisted kind of dysfunction at play in Washington and on Wall Street. BP's stock price, for example, has rebounded from a 52-week low of approximately $28 (in the days and weeks following the April 20th's explosion in the Gulf) to well over $40, despite the catastrophic economic peril they unleashed on Gulf Coast residents, marine habitats, and the psychology of the NYSE and NASDAQ. This rebound is unjustifiable considering how many American workers have lost their jobs along the Gulf shore and have no promise of seeing them replaced anytime soon. BP's rebound is unjustified because an entire marine ecosystem has been scandalously obliterated. BP's rebound is unjustified, too, because the political tactics deployed by BP officials excluded reporters from the very early days, weeks, and months of the Disaster and influenced American officials to corrupt their accounting of the events, when interviewed by American reporters.

At the core of the BP Disaster, beyond the fragrant corporate negligence, BP bullied American officials, dominated U.S. waterways, refused to engage with international engineers who offered their remedial resources for free, and to this day continues to spend millions of dollars on TV advertisements designed to reframe America's perception of the events that occurred between April 20th 2010 and the present.

As for Daley's naive claim that there is no way to calculate the benefits of Cape Wind (a typically passive aggressive tactic of renewable energy opponents), just consider her claim turned around. In other words, consider the potential cost of Massachusetts missing out on what may well be the first opportunity they've had in decades to lead in technological innovation. Consider the potential cost of missing out on being the first state to swing national opinion in favor of an all-out economic revitalization. Consider the costs of missing out on pioneering an entirely new energy model. Consider the economic benefits of our energy markets electrified by an American renewable energy manufacturing boom.

Finally, consider letting go of what we may have become accustomed to believing is the only way to make and consume energy and the possibility that if our collective national mindset shifts just a bit (just enough), adapting to an improved 21st century model may turn out to be America's 21st century lunar landing.

www.twitter.com/Stacy__Clark

 



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