Friday, October 10, 2008

On Energy

Reader "Adam" writes:

While your right that transportation, communications and basic utilities infrastructure in this country, much of which has been steadily decaying since the depression, are desperately in need of updates and repair, I don't see how you can endorse the use of atomic power. Even if you ignore the possibility of nuclear catastrophe (which is certainly plausible given the complete lack of government oversight, rampant corruption and incompetence in America) atomic power plants have never been efficient. They generally end up losing money and require government bailouts. Obtaining and refining uranium takes a lot of energy. So does transporting and storing the resulting toxic waste. Atomic power plants cost hella money to build and can only be used for a limited amount of time before they need to be replaced. Unlike power from solar, wind, tidal (etc) sources which are essentially limitless and cause little to no environmental destruction. These would not require the centralized corporate monopolies that currently control our public utilities. Of course these technologies aren't efficient enough yet to support our decadent American lifestyles, but if we spent a fraction of what we spend securing the last of the world's fossil fuels on "alternative" power sources, we'd be way closer to weaning ourselves off these power sources which are fast becoming completely obsolete. Yeah, Obama says he's all for atomic power, but he also supports offshore drilling, ethanol and the mythological "clean coal" all of which will be environmentally disastrous and wont do dick in the long run for our "fuel crisis".

Well, you're quite right. Nuclear waste disposal is a serious issue. I still stand by nuclear as a quality alternative to clean coal, which would indeed be a disaster, and especially ethanol, which is already a disaster in some ways.

And that's the real problem with Obama, in my view: he's already in the pocket of Midwestern agricultural interests who want us to rely on 2:1 (output to input) corn ethanol, when 6:1 Brazilian sugar ethanol is readily available... and besides, ethanol PERIOD shouldn't be used, it's a pollutant just like oil, and solar and wind are coming of age.

I disagree about the monopoly issue, though: it's never too late to start cornering the market on solar and wind. After all, both solar and wind will require a vast new upgrade of the national energy grid to be efficient. Such a massive undertaking will require the power and coordination of the federal government. And the federal government can be very easily swayed by a few wealthy individuals. After all, that's by and large how the oil industry came to power: wildcatting, followed by local monopolies, followed by larger monopolies with government influence.

I think this the most likely future of the solar and wind industries. However, I'd rather have clear energy monopolies than dirty energy monopolies. And monopolies -can- be regulated in a way that decentralized energy perhaps cannot.

What I'm trying to say is, in the course of setting up the energy grid, solar/wide/tidal monopolies will probably come to be, simply due to how the access to gov't game is played.

RECOMMENDED READING: The whole sleiugh of oil industry books I've mentioned, but especially The Prize by Daniel Yergin. The Economist is a great place to read about the new energy industry, but bear in mind they take a very free-market-booster approach, so read between the lines. And there's so much reading on how monopolies are born and come to influence gov't that I really don't know where to begin. Revisit your American Pageant or whatever and read the bit about the breakup of Standard Oil back in, what, 1911? I think it's 1911.

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