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Friday, April 17, 2009

Solving the energy crisis and ending bailouts- for real!

April 17, 2009 at 1:00 pm by Chris Hrabovsky

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For those of us growing weary of hearing about the energy crisis, coupled with the concept of more bailouts for corporations such as AIG and the rest of Wall Streets finest, we may finally have the “pick-me-up” you’ve been craving, in the form of green sustainability.

The truth is, “bailouts”, are not just limited to Wall Street thieves. Energy Companies like Progress Energy have been granted a “pre-emptive bailout”, for a boondoggle that hasn’t even been built yet. No longer do corporations have to screw up and gamble away their money in order to have the government hand them more of our hard earned cash. Now they can be given the right to reach into our wallets, to subsidize their gambling schemes before they even get started. It’s called Advanced Cost Recovery and the proposed Levy County nuclear plant is the first of more to come. Progress Energy started adding 25% to their customer’s bills this January of 2009, in part to pre-pay for their nuclear power project. They are taxing citizens for this corporation’s private gain.

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But wait, where’s the “pick me up”, I referred to earlier? Like you, the only thing that makes me more weary, than hearing of another bailout, is hearing another person complain about it without offering any hope or solutions. Well, this time we have both. I have been researching this issue for some time now and have uncovered several solutions.
Let’s begin with the most ambitious. We can create Municipal Utility Companies in each and every Chartered City in Florida. Right now Florida has 34 Muni’s according to the FMEA, some producing their own power and others buying power from abroad. The most shining example of a well functioning Muni, is the Gainesville Regional Utility Company. They use some of the revenue they collect to pay for the City’s police, fire, and parks and recreation (lowering taxes instead of lining the pockets of a corporate CEO). The GRU is also the country’s first municipality to introduce the Feed In Tariff to pay for Solar Panels for their residents. This is the method Germany used to help encourage homeowners to install Photo-Voltaic (PV) panels on their homes- The homeowner gets paid 32 cents for every kilowatt produced by their solar panels and then only has to pay 12 cents for every kilowatt used in the home. This allows residents to become entrepreneurs, making a profit from sunshine (for more details visit FARE).

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How then, you ask, does a city that is covered by a monopoly, like Progress Energy, TECO, or Florida Power & Light, do this? One way is to do what the City of Winter Park did. They broke free from Progress Energy, when their franchise agreement was up, and now the City of Winter Park has control over its own power. They are currently issuing bonds to help put the power lines underground. They will have the opportunity and the option to move toward wind and solar power to help meet their city’s energy needs. They could then place solar panels on the land that currently holds the large type, high tension transmission line towers. Thousands of acres of land, which is already maintained and is currently unused, can be utilized and covered by PV panels, which can deliver power directly to the grid. This will prove more efficient than a large centralized production facility because there will be less loss in the transmission of the power, as it will be spread out along the many miles of land that these towers and lines already occupy.

We are currently researching many franchise agreements between Progress Energy and various cities throughout Florida, in order to help other cities obtain their freedom from corporate monopolies. So far we have noticed a trend, of diminishing rights for city residents. For example, in Tarpon Springs’ 1961 Franchise agreement with PE, the City had the right to buy back the power grid (like in Winter Park), and in the current agreement that provision is missing. Also missing in the current agreement is the right for the city to renegotiate the 30 year contract every 10 years. Valuable information is being uncovered as we pour over the lengthy legal documents. More to come as the records requests keep pouring in. This is where you can get involved. Contact your local City Representatives and ask about your City’s Franchise Agreement, and take a look at your City’s Electric Bill. Start conversations with your neighbors about what it might be like to have your own Muni Power Company, who answers to the people, instead of out of town shareholders. Call Winter Park and Gainesville, and ask them. Also call the City of Belleair and ask about their experience trying to get the same freedom from Progress Energy. Every chartered City can do this by referendum. Do the research and start the petitions.

Another potential solution to both our energy needs and our need to be free from bailing out corporate energy producers is, the Berkeley Model. In Berkeley California, they have implemented a program for issuing Bonds that can be used to buy solar panels for a home. The city pays the upfront costs and the property owners repay the costs over 20 years through a special assessment on their property tax bills. This model allows the cost to remain with the house, so if sold or even foreclosed on, the house and the solar panels would go to the new owner, and the monthly tax increase would go along too, as well as the savings of course due to no electric bill. Again, contact your Mayor and Representatives, and demand that they study this option. This can be done in your city.

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Yet another potential solution actually allows a corporation to be the savior: I call this the SunRun Model, after the SunRun solar company in San Francisco California. This is an example of a corporation paying all of the upfront costs and ongoing maintenance for solar systems on each home. The home owner, then pays a monthly fee, either for the electricity used or the fee could simply be used to pay back the loan for the systems cost (a hair splitting detail that may have to be ironed out due to Florida’s laws in regard to who is allowed to sell electricity). Even this model will help break the grip of dirty oil, coal and nuclear corporate monopolies. The way to help make this happen is for you to encourage the passage of solar friendly local ordinances, and state laws, like the Feed-in Tariff. Then call European, California-based and local Florida companies and tell them we have new markets opening due to the passage of these new incentives. Thus, new Green Jos are created (40,000 in Germany)!

We can produce clean, safe, and renewable energy locally. We can complete our energy producing projects more quickly and efficiently than their proposed nuclear plants, as well as create local green jobs in the process. And we can do it for much less money. Let us ween ourslves off of the corporations that we have entrusted with too much, for far to long. No more bailouts for corporate private profits. It’s time to bail ourselves out of the mess that greedy corporations have put us in.

Let’s create our own energy. And in doing so, we shall energize our economy, our neighborhoods, and ourselves. Let’s take back our power, literally!

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