Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Solar Farms

I was raised by a barking dog. I learned how to bark but not how to bite. That's a tough fact of life. Sometimes you don't learn the important stuff. There was a lot of bitching about the world at my 1982 dinner table. At the end of the dinner I would play video games or sort baseball cards. Then the cycle would start the next day. As early as 9 years old I was trained to thoroughly examine a politician's administration and judge it from top to bottom and then do absolutely nothing to change it. Bitching was sufficient. In fact, I came to see humanity as nothing more than a giant troupe of actors to be judged and critiqued from afar. The favorite activity was to see a problem developing and then wait for the axe to fall and say, "I saw that coming."

Oh, what fun that was!

This went on for easily 15 years and still goes on today in a lesser amount thus completely skewing my outlook on and place in the world. You would think I could move on from this but it's only recently that I isolated the problem and I see I've got my work cut out for me.

Proactive or preventative measures were not something I knew existed until 1999 when I took a class called "Prosocial Behavior" at my hippie college Humboldt State University. The class basically tried to reverse 30 years of brainwashing that I am not to meddle in any realm of the world except by bitching about it all as much as possible. Steve Stamnes taught the class is probably the best method I've ever seen, which is guest speakers like Julia Butterfly Hill from her tree sit, and a jigsaw method which required groups exchange ideas. I did not do well in the class mainly because the street activism I did in Santa Cruz was such a monumental disaster in every way that to have ignorant 19 year old kids tell me feeding the homeless was "good" made me sick. I fed the homeless for 2 years and wasn't sure if it was good or not. Parts of it were completely wrong. This conflict is one of the themes I'm trying to capture in the book I'm writing. If I can't do any good in the world at least I can write about how I fucked it all up. That should be good for a laugh.

I recognize my limitations but want to change and am paralyzed by what must be done. Lately, I've been reading Plan B by Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute. There's a link to it on the left there that's growing cobwebs since no one is using it. It's a lot of information and as one person it's easy to get overwhelmed by the scope of the problem. Along with trying to stay sober and get a girlfriend saving civilization is a lot to ask. 600 million cars set to double by 2020. Even if 1 billion hybrid or electric cars were running I would say that's not going to work. Maybe the future will turn out like The Jetsons and maybe it will turn out like The Minority Report. Or maybe like WALL-E. But 1.2 billion cars? Come on!
Right now mankind uses 8,500 megawatts of solar energy or 8.5 gigawatts for you Back to The Future fans. That's PV solar, not thermal gathering solar.
That 8.5 GW has to increase to 200 GW by 2020 in order to close the coal power plants that are going to melt Greenland and the North Pole if they keep operating.

When I was in Todos Santos the demand for solar energy was universal. The sun was there and the electric grid was not. So everyone had to fight to get the grid extended but the electricity is expensive as it comes from La Paz where I think a natural gas or oil plant provided energy. It was right outside the city and I don't remember any nasty ash or pollution. Maybe natural gas. I don't know. La Paz really is a gorgeous city of 180,000 people. It's like a paradise during the winter. Go there and get your heart broken. It's fun!

My point is that solar and wind power is already past the experimental stages. What it needs now are contractors and skilled installers. I'd like to return to Todos Santos and build a solar farm. The town is still wild with only about 4,000 population a mango farmer who sees expensive equipment on a hill thinks nothing of taking it and selling it. It's not even considered theft, especially if the victim is a gringo. But the demand is there and they are already paying for electricity so the goal is to learn enough about 1+ Megawatt solar farms to build one in La Paz. A mere mile out of town is vast empty shrubland perfect for solar farms. It would only need maybe half a megawatt to take care of Todos Santos and Pescadero.

I'll start my new prosocial activism by pointing out that BP has a gigantic solar division BP Solar
so while boycotting BP oil is understandable, the oil money finances the solar research. It's kind of senseless crying over spilled milk like BP loves losing money. It'll be the most expensive clean up in history and I'm considering getting a Hazwopper certification and going to Louisiana to work scrubbing marshland. They give you a room and board so the money is all banked. If you want to boycott something you should boycott your government, which has failed to tell the environmental truth about our resources for over 100 years. Or Shell oil which is intentionally attacking indigenous Ecuadorians and destroying their jungles in a mad genocidal dash for oil.

Let me put it this way. The total cost of a pack of cigarettes if you include health care costs and days lost at work is over $10. That information was used to put taxes on cigarettes (fought by the tobacco companies) to even out the cost to the idiots who are smoking. Cigarettes would still be a dollar a pack if the companies had their way and everyone would be paying the additional costs for someone to get lung cancer. $5 isn't even half of what they really cost us all. In fact, if you buy a pack for $5 you are basically stealing $5 to make up the difference.

Here's what Lester has to say about Nuclear Power:
"Nuclear energy is expensive to maintain and poses a serious threat to security. If we use full-cost pricing—requiring utilities to absorb the costs of disposing of nuclear waste, of decommissioning the plant when it is worn out, and of insuring the reactors against possible accidents and terrorist attacks—building nuclear plants in a competitive electricity market is clearly not economical."

See? Nuclear power is only cheap if you toss the wastewater in your backyard. If you pretend that the earth is not a toilet then...shit...it's expensive!

Now, the same math can be applied to gasoline: if you include the costs of pollution a gallon of oil costs $15. Right now we're getting taxed like $1 and that's probably squandered on useless anti-pollution stickers. Gasoline is the same price in France, except they add $12 in taxes. If you want to drive in Europe then you carry the full cost of driving. America has intentionally let drivers get away with murder because we're about "freedom". But like Lester Brown says, "The cost still exists. Someone has to pay that $15 a gallon." Someone makes up the difference either today or tomorrow. That's the problem. We're generating this debt that is getting nearly impossible to pay off. We will have a vast interstate highway and advanced infrastructure but it's balanced on the thinnest foundation of debt and false economy. Never mind that it's irresponsible, it's the same kind of creative accounting that led to Enron's collapse. We're kind of in the stage when Enron was selling $200 shares and lighting cigars with $100 bills. With some trickery they bought themselves some time, but eventually it all collapsed. I hate using the sky is falling cliche because it's all speculation and is like falling back on my useless bitching strategy. Old habits die hard.


Anonymous said...

All our solar panels on UTE were made by BP. They make good efficient, compact and durable solar panels.

Anonymous said...

I thought Once and Twice. Removed it myself. I figured you would just take it down.
I am not even drunk yet. Saved you so much time. You are welcome. Swellesley

Oggy Bleacher said...

That shows initiative. Good work.

hardworker said...

I read yesterday a quote about solar energy, something like,"forget about the eco side of solar, it's creating jobs and creating energy savings for customers and businesses. Isn't that enough?"

Which is weird in its implications. If you want something to be popular in certain segments, you have to ignore the ecological benefits. We've assigned the eco movement to the hippies and anti corporate side of politics. It should be a bit more universal I think.

hardworker said...

In a personal note you may not want to hear, posts like this are sometimes hard to read. And you know it yourself, this post is about just that. You bitch in a post that bitches about how bad bitching is.

Which means you've had an awakening, a realization. This could be the start of a new dimension to your writing.

Right now you write from your guts, you're telling all. To write your story about Santa Cruz, and to keep people reading these posts that make great points, you need to have one step more of removal. Don't write from your guts. Write from a calm place without judgement and tell the story about the guts. In other words give the reader someplace safe to stand.

I don't know how to say it.

You don't create sympathy for your father, which is a problem for me. So the post is a one sided rant, perhaps that's my complaint. If you don't have sympathy in real life, ok. But you are a writer. You need to be able to invent it. You need to create a world where everyone is alive, not just you.

Let's see your fathers guts too.

Oggy Bleacher said...

Marketing will come into play in this. I've been a bad model for low resource living because it's easy to suspect it will lead to a miserable, wandering, friendless existence that revolves around complaints and self-deprivation, sacrifice, asceticism, pain and a lonely death in a delapidated vehicle. I wanted to be the merry do-gooder who spreads cheer and delight along with messages of reusing bags and conserving water (and that did happen a few magical times). But that's not how it turned out on average. I can't fake it and some of the Santa Cruz story is verbatim of me talking about water and oil and someone insisting if I did some cocaine it would all be solved. I'd like to see The Dali Lama go to skid row and talk to some deranged addicts about a free Tibet. He's a good model and I'm a mess.
"You're your own worst enemey." someone told me today.
Ok, but doesn't everyone need a villain? Now, when does me hero side rescue me?
I think that's in the end of Act II.

I do disagree with the approach to Solar as a business model only. Business was a secondary part of the U.S. response to the German Invasion of France. It's war and "Victory Gardens" and "Kill the Jap" slogans were part of that war. The propaganda solidified the movement.
We're at war with carbon right now and to win that war we'll need to demonize it. While I feel I'm a ranting blowhard at times I also feel like most people I talk to are like Holocaust deniers. "It's not happening right in front of my face so it doesn't exist." This is crazy but I'm easy to dismiss. So, it's a case of bad chemistry. Saying that carbon is destroying the climate isn't changing anyone's mind. But omitting the fact it's destroying the climate makes it something that's not very important and can be ignored because the last episode of Lost is on in twenty minutes.
So, propaganda is what makes people ignore Lost and start turning off lights. Propaganda is what will win the war. But calling it Green or Ecologically Mindful makes it elitest. Think of those War Bond posters. They didn't explain the case against Germany. They captured a spirit of brotherhood.
Now, how do we do that for a media saturated people? It's enough to make you go bonkers.

thanks for your comments.

Lyle said...

Isn't climate change the propaganda to teach people to conserve resources?

The propaganda doesn't work because, in this case, we're the bad guys. Propaganda works when you can externalize the blame.

Oggy Bleacher said...

Lyle, you are right. So externalize the blame. Propaganda can't blame the target audience but it has to empower them. America financed and traded with both Germany and Britain from 1935-1939. WTF? We also financed the Taliban for 20 years under Reagan when they were fighting the Reds. But propaganda won't remind us of that. It will move onward and upward. Oil isn't economical. You win by conserving oil. God is within solar power. Something like that. Or demonize Arab people. They're an easy target.

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