Jewish World Review Dec. 14, 2000 / 17 Kislev, 5761
Blame enviros for electric mess
WINDMILLS AND CANDLES and warm woolen mittens. Staticky sparks from the fur of small kittens. Campfires and solar panels and thermal
paddings. These are a few of the favorite things that radical environmentalists would rather rely on for warmth, light, and electricity than the
modern power plant.
To the delight of eco-Luddites, energy shortages in California and the Pacific Northwest are forcing residents to live like 17th-century peasants.
The Seattle Times urged readers this week to turn down their thermostats to 50 degrees at night. "Wear a sweater and throw another blanket on
the bed," the paper flippantly editorialized. Others pine for subsidized sunshine sources. "If there were sufficient state or federal incentives for
using solar power," one San Francisco Chronicle reader bemoaned, "there wouldn't be an energy crisis."
Good luck convincing the denizens of Silicon Valley – and everywhere else, for that matter -- to unplug their computers and wrap their roofs in
tin foil. As author and Manhattan Institute fellow Peter Huber writes: "Wind, solar and other ‘alternative’ energies sound great in theory, but
they rarely make much economic or environmental sense in practice. They require a lot of expensive, unreliable hardware. And they generally
use more land to deliver less energy."
Huber and fellow energy consultant Mark P. Mills estimate that the use of home and office computers, phone lines, printers, fax machines, and
other peripheral devices accounted for 13% of America's energy use last year. Internet-related energy usage will likely rise to 35% or more by
the end of the next decade, they project. In the midst of this high-tech-driven power crisis, Calif. Gov. Gray Davis took the laughable step of
turning off the Christmas tree lights at the Sacramento capitol and urging homeowners to do the same.
Every hapless home improvement wannabe knows it takes more energy to put up those darned lights in one afternoon than they consume over
the entire course of the holidays.
On a serious note, Davis and the state’s left-wing consumer groups attack electricity deregulation for the West Coast’s energy woes. But the
real Grinches are naysaying activists and bureaucrats who continue to stand in the way of a truly free market in electricity. Although much ado
has been made since the Golden State passed electricity "deregulation" measures in 1996, high prices and red tape remain. It’s government
failure, not market failure, that short-circuited success.
While demand for electricity has skyrocketed, government officials continued to clamp down on supply. Overzealous air-quality laws,
environmental permit applications, and siting paperwork have slowed the construction process to a near-halt. No new major generating plants
have been built in over a decade. Only in the past year did the state Legislature pass fast-track measures to lower the regulatory barriers to
building new plants.
The 1996 law also forced power companies to obtain regulator approval before doing major repairs or refits. In addition, new competitors from
out-of-state were frozen out of the market. The state required utilities to buy power through two pools run by quasi-governmental agencies and
kept tight rate caps in place, distorting price signals.
Adrian Moore, director of economic policy at Reason Public Policy Institute, puts it plainly: "The fact is, California embarked not on
deregulation of the electricity market at all, but ‘restructuring.’ While the generation of electricity was partly deregulated, additional regulation
and controls were placed on the rest of the system. The result is not a market, but a hash of semi-markets run by a government body…so
complex that no one fully understands what is happening."
In fact, Moore notes, "California's electricity ‘deregulation’ law violated most basic principles of deregulation -- it discouraged entry into the
market, it restricts expansion of capacity, and it sustains the old systems and rules that defy competition."
Panicked politicians and environmental activists are calling for a return to the good old days of the electric monopoly. But centralized control is
the reason for this year’s outages, not the solution --- and it would do nothing to alleviate the supply problem caused by continued opposition
to new plant construction. The green NIMBYs’ power trip is enough to give you the
JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.
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© 2000, Creators Syndicate