Scandinavian Sustainable Business Lessons
In one view of matters political and economic, all manifestations of capital work out to be about the same; in other ways of breaking down political economy, one might look for exceptional, or 'special cases.' In general, I'm a firm believer that any 'special case' is tantamount to special pleading. "Oh, don't put him in jail! He didn't do that nasty 'crack cocaine' like the kids in the ghetto; besides, he's White and he's my nephew."
This rejection of 'exceptionalism' matters to a more or less significant extent because these articles have made clear, repeatedly, that capitalism is in crisis, that this is a matter of imperialism, and that some more socially democratic paradigm may be essential in order to have a prayer of 'doing business...better.' Nevertheless, today, despite my general inclinations and specific prejudices against giving anything a 'special pass,' , I'm going to have to acknowledge that wind energy is so swell that it could, at the very least, rescue business from its worst tendencies if not altogether resuscitate the bourgeoisie.
A couple of caveats to this, for me, somewhat shamefaced admission of backsliding are probably apropos. The first concerns what I view as an 'immune response' of capital to invasive social forms that might sidetrack its relentless tendency both to accumulate all production as either capital investment or surplus and, at the same time, to diminish the cost of labor power to zero.
As a counterbalance to this 'greed-is-good, grab-everything' tendency, which always, historically, takes place in the context of a struggle between more 'liberal' manifestations of bourgeois thinking and a revanchist embrace of something that smells like Mussolini, blocking mechanisms arise that address either the slippery slope toward fascism or any thoroughgoing tendency to regulate capital's untrammeled motion toward owning everything and putting it all in one big pot. I have alluded before to this latter sort of insidious undermining of progress.
Many renewable energy ventures, especially of late wind projects all over the continent, have confronted such opposition. In one view, the entire orientation of the Department of Energy (DOE) expresses this, in its overwhelming commitment to nuclear vis-a-vis the paltry but exalted scraps tossed to renewable energy. Even as paltry as they are, however, such real institutionalization of renewables as transpire in the National Renewable Energy Laboratories could terrify those who would, easily and without travail, inaugurate the 'Nuclear Renaissance' so beloved of the high and mighty.
A 'liberal' counterattack against such assaults on progress provides one welcome proof and accomplishes another welcome objective. The first is a confirmation of the systemic tendency to eliminate non-'party-line' paths to further growth. The second is an actualization of at least some reformist energy. "Full Frontal Scrutiny (FFS)" is not a naughty site; rather it is the sort of confirmatory and knight-errant structure of which I speak, a joint project in which Consumer Reports plays a leading role.
FFS exists in order to discover, attack, and root out 'Astroturf' organizations and other faux grassroots developments that serve to protect the central tendencies of capitalism from any reformist or oppositional energy. A report on this tendency is upcoming; a reference to a BREDL discovery that ended up on the 'cutting room floor' in the article profiling Lou Zellar may suffice at this juncture.
In opposing Uranium mining and a plant's relicensing in Virginia, "completely out of the blue," according to Zellar, "we began to see people, clean and scrubbed and all in uniform T-shirts, something like 'North America's Young Generation in Nuclear,' that just started showing up" doing a dandy media dance: popcorn, kids, balloons, t-shirts, a grassrootsy literature-table front. In actuality, when BREDL looked into it, "They were comprised almost entirely of plant employees and engineers and stuff" from nearby nuclear facilities.
A quick Google search absolutely confirms the suspicion of ties to nuclear by the group, "Young Generation in Nuclear," including plugs from the American Nuclear Society. Interestingly enough, no 'outing' of the organization occurs on the FFS website, even as the service does identify the "Clean and Safe Energy Coalition" as a Nuclear Energy Institute pet.
I have taken this fairly lengthy diversion because, as I've noted, this sense that attacks result from hidden agendas is also a suspicion of other recent developers of solar, wind, and so forth, And I suspect as much, as well, in regard to such falsely fronted 'community based organizations' as the Industrial Wind Action Group. Like I say, a fuller investigation of all of this is on tap.
These past few paragraphs having constituted 'caveat number one,' now we may turn, more briefly, to the second explanatory nuance of this sort. Like the first, it also ties into the central role performed by Public Relations, which one might accurately define as 'The Science of Information and Propaganda for Capitalism.'
Thousands of fresh instances of the articulation of this function show up in any given time period. One such has recently arrived from a pair of Australian scholars. "The public relations industry is already preparing to shape online opinion in the way that it has manipulated the content and agendas of newspapers, television, and radio since the late 1920s (cf. Bernays, 1928; Lasswell, 1927). The alienating effects of market logic apply equally to commodified thought and language as it does to any other commodified human activity (cf. Fairclough, 1992; Marx, 1844/1975, 1970, 1973, 1976, 1981)." I have retained the references in this quotation because I recognize that they point to a rich iteration of this arguably critical comprehension of how PR operates in modern business.
Boosterism is one adjunct of such phenomena. And I just want to state, with no qualifications, that no 'disclaimer' is due from me, in this regard, concerning today's story. I would not reject any support or employment that came without strings, as in my work as a JustMeans writer, but I would note the presence of such a connection up front, as I have done in many of the 'profiles' and presentations that have appeared here, whenever long standing ties have connected me to subjects of a report.
My readers may rest assured. If I seem like a Babbit about wind, that stems from my own fascination with the technology, which I can neither explain nor justify. This much, in any event, I do admit. I really like wind energy.
Today's unfolding prefatory remarks flow from the way that, in turn, currents of capital move through social and political affairs. An apologist for high finance, for instance, defended 'Engine-Charlie' Wilson's unintentional formulation of this point, when Congressmen were serving him softballs at his confirmation hearings to be Eisenhower's Secretary of Defense.
"During the hearings, when asked if as secretary of defense he could make a decision adverse to the interests of General Motors, Wilson answered affirmatively but added that he could not conceive of such a situation 'because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.'" This unquestionably makes the point that I want to make: capital exerts hegemonic influence on contemporary society. That this influence might be less overarching and conspiratorial than some folks believe does not alter the veracity of the viewpoint.
This captain of capital, about to become fourth in line to lead the United States of America, 'could not conceive' of a conflict between the interests of GM and the interests of the U.S.A. Unless he believed that such citizen collectives as the United Auto Workers didn't really count, such an admission shows one of two things: clinical insanity or overweening belief that the ruling class is all that matters.
Nonetheless, this here troubling identification of the proclivities of business with 'what is good for the country' does have an upside. From it stems the likelihood that an understanding of business is an understanding of all that is human, because the voracity of capital is such that it carries the eddies of finance and commoditization not only to the upper reaches of the State, but also into every backwater and backwash and rivulet in existence. It also, for me, guarantees that even the driest subject matter, properly prepped, is full of juicy interest.
Another underlying aspect of today's story is a different sort of 'extra special' status that applies to the State of Texas. Readers may recall that I have advanced the contention before that an understanding of the South, particularly in relation to Latin America, is of central import in seeing the core issues of contemporary history. Texas, in turn, sits astride this conjunction at the heart of U.S. history, in the role that the state played in fomenting the War with Mexico that, along with the Louisiana Purchase, played such a key part in the materialization of a United States empire.
This entire section today, though it has contained substantive material, has revolved around the way that thinkers may either go awry or need a deeper orientation. A final potential for error exists, if an interlocutor believes in any possibility of technological 'special cases.' Such a view would exempt certain categories of what inventive humans create from social and economic forces.
While I reject such 'special pleading,' as I note above, I am--and I state this as well without qualification--exceedingly fond of renewable energy technologies. Just thinking about them in terms of human capacity excites me. If this is error, I am guilty. But I would hope to be able to 'put it all in perspective' and see that, as an upcoming article will discuss, an imperial military machine that is gung-ho about renewable energy is still an imperial military machine.
Furthermore, I will count on the big picture--such as an forthcoming follow-up on the history of utilities and electricity, to keep me in line. Moreover, the continuing reliance, in shaping these reports from the technosphere, on ties to finance--the heart of capitalism--represents a lasting check and balance against misguided miscues about halcyon possibilities of yielding 'sustainable business' from the wicked ways of the present and past.
To say that I'm not much of an astute student of business would approximate stating that I'm not a particularly good candidate at this stage of my life for the U.S. Olympic basketball team. But as I've done before, I'll do my best to explicate now for readers what I take to be important attributes of the 'American Industrial Wind Model,' an understanding of which is both an important contribution to the two stories that we've already seen on this general topic area, not to mention a useful general background about energy policy posts that have appeared.
The primary Horatio-Alger-fantasy model of American experience is one version or other of the 'build-a-better-mousetrap' story, but commodity production per se has been declining as the way that business appears in the world today. The total output, on average, still grows, but the proportion grows smaller and smaller over time.
Much more common is one type or other of project, deal, or development. This is true in many economic sectors, and sits at the center of, for example, the key portions of U.S. economic growth for at least the past few decades. The drop in manufacturing sees an attendant increase in all manner of operations to move money around, put different technologies together in a specific place for a particular purpose, garnering government contracts, and so on.
Industrial wind energy fits into this more complicated entrepreneurial evolution. The American Wind Energy Association provides one of thousands of affirmations of this 'enterprise structure.'
'Development,' in such efforts, follows a partnership or other joint-enterprise approach to accomplishing mutual goals of creating a final project and making money. The components basically consist of a handful of necessary requirements.
*Obviously, the first is an appropriately windy place.
*Another is more or less 'local' stakeholders who will put up earnest money.
*Further, a manufacturer or distributor, often in direct linkage with an engineering outfit, must sign on eventually.
*The fourth piece of the pie is what Jim Swafford told me several times was the critical "PPA," which I eventually learned was a "purchase power agreement," meaning someone promises to pay some reasonable amount for the juice that the new program zaps out.
*The fifth foundation element consists of licensing, environmental impact, and other bureaucratic arrangements that are part of any SOP involving construction of almost anything these days.
An interested student of this field could add other details, but this list is a good starting point.
All such packaging involves, at its heart, someone of vision and business sense who pulls everything together. Such a developer plays the central part in both of the specific cases under review today. In a sense, developers ought generally to make great Buddhists. They needn't have much 'attachment' to any particular eventuality, since the sphere of their operations always accepts the potential of 'tomorrow is another day,' or 'there are always more fish in the sea.'
In similar fashion, developers need rarely, if ever, care much about ideology. Both of the articulate and clever fellows whom I interviewed for this article, helping to expand the trenches where wind contributes to the grid in the Midwest and the Southwest, evinced this ho-hum attitude toward ideological analytics in any case. They were both can-do, 'let's-get-the-deal-done and worry about the rationalizations and explanations later' sorts of businessmen.
In practice, of course, particularly in Texas, my sense was that both of these team-leaders wanted to be very careful not to step on any toes, Going forward with the project, in its definition, meant not worrying too much about all of the side issues that make up the daily bread of nerdy boys like Jimbo.
In any event, the evolution of modern capitalism in Europe has arguably followed this low-ideological-density propensity, since social democracy has so thoroughly entrenched itself in popular consciousness there. Of the many iterations of this idea available, the following, the third of a trio of White Papers written under the auspices of the Demos think tank, showed up near the top of Google's queue.
|"(T)his Demos paper reflects my conviction that the established traditions of British political thought; liberal, conservative,and socialist,cannot meet the challenges posed by the technological and cultural environment of Britain in the late modern period. New thought is needed,in which debts to the past are light. The object ofthis essay is to break new ground. Its starting point is the belief that, though the emerging social-democratic consensus in Britain represents a considerable advance on the formulaic debates of the New Right and the Old Left, it nevertheless embodies assumptions and modes of thought that belong to an historical context that has vanished beyond recovery.That context has been destroyed partly by neoliberal policy,and,more importantly,by global economic and technological developments."|
And that brings us to today's events, which arguably embody what John Gray was witnessing in England, though we'll cross the North Sea to Finland and Norway to get at the specifics under review in the following sections.
While part of me, reflexively, can't help but think that offshore roots of Scandia, in Havgul Clean Energy, of Norway, and Alpha Wind Aps, of Denmark, might help to put the problems that it has encountered in perspective--sort of 'Good Old Boy Network' meets 'Pippi Longstocking'--this is wrong for objective reasons that are both general and particular to this case. The nature of capital today is always, and inherently multinational, number one.
And the bona fides of these firms is beyond dispute. The following representations are the company's own, but I've scoured the virtual world to find the merest squeak of a rusty hinge, and they've come up clean.
"Scandia Wind, LLC brings over 120 combined years of experience to the development of your wind farm project. The value added to projects is demonstrated by the track record of their Scandinavian partners and majority owners, Havgul clean energy AS, of Norway, and Alpha Wind Energy Aps, of Denmark. Scandia Wind presents a bundled service of development, technical assessment and facilitation of project financing to deliver professionally developed wind farm projects on time and within budget."
More importantly as the Norwegian CEO gleefully speaks of his passion for his job to an energy journalist, he demonstrates without question that these Scandinavian partners are very good at networking. They are fishermen trolling in what they cannot help but view as very promising waters, as the combination of technical acuity, popular opinion, and fiscal desperation seem to be coming together in almost the obverse of a Black Swan.
And of course, Steve Warner, with whom I spoke, brings a powerful American presence to the table in these situations. For example, just on the surface, his "22 years' experience in the region as a financial consultant in securities, commercial real estate, and wind farm project finance" means a reliable network, a clear demonstration of 'delivering the deliverables,' and an acute comprehension of the bedrock particulars of completing a project.
Moreover, one would have to propose, from even a brief perusal of Warner's CV, that his is a 'smart money' sort of background, with fifteen years of increasingly successful experience in commercial real estate and then an extremely savvy exit, stage left, a few months before implosive forces took over all such labor. And here he is on a windy field, where he envisioned himself, so he tells me, from his college days on.
Steve tells me that his iteration of "Scandia is predicated on Havgul Clean Energy's wanting to leverage their experience into a very interesting market here in the states." He continues, "We met through common networks," people that Steve had helped with various projects, and, classically "we knew someone in common, and met first time in '07. " His presence serve to make sure that "we have someone on the ground who can manage projects and clients in local settings."
Minnesota accent lilting in a way that his Scandinavian colleagues must find pleasing, Steve notes, "In the Northern area, that was me. Jim Swafford is their man down in Texas." He said that, at first, "the Great Plains seemed attractive but grid capacity can be difficult there." However, since their model's "number one factor" was high quality wind, "We weren't going to give up wind quality for grid access and capacity." And they looked Eastward.
MICHIGAN UPDATE AND NOTES ON OPPOSITION
In general terms, Steve Warner has been talking to Eric Justian or vice versa, or other people just look at things differently from the way that Jimbo does. Scandia Wind's CEO muses, as we end our third brief interlude of conversation, "you've just got to be patient: patience and diligence are just incredibly necessary to do this work. But they can't stop this, not in the long run." Just like I told Eric Justian, when I was reporting the two pieces of the Michigan story, I sure hope that this is correct.
As I've already reported, Steve confirmed, "Lake Michigan is just ideal in its own right." Moreover, "Transmission losses can be dramatic, so that affects N.Dakota due to" the hundreds of miles of lines that the power would have to follow "to get anywhere helpful."
He assures me that Scandia is not abandoning Michigan, "but other opportunities have presented themselves." We speak over the course of two days when he is toodling along life's highway somewhere much closer to the Atlantic ocean than when he is at home in Minnesota or over along the lake in Michigan.
He fills me in on the Scandia operating model, to which I make some reference above. "Scandia Wind was formed by Havgul and Alpha Wind--they're the majority owners, and then there's me. Scandia Offshore is just me and Havgul. The reason the partnership works, its genesis, is that Havgul brings technical expertise, and any consultants necessary from outside can come from Alpha."
He makes sure that I understand the way the process works. "We are really pure developers--getting a project construction ready, and then inviting in institutional partners, to get power purchase agreements and all." He didn't use any acronyms, since he knew he was dealing with a rookie. "The Utilities want direct control over construction, operation, and maintenance, but Scandia owns the entity in the end." This still strikes me as a little odd, so when I figure it out, I'll 'splain it to everyone as best I'm able.
I ask about the shift, back in March, to break the Michigan project into two halves. "How did the Muskegon/Coal Plant interface evolve? Is that still a viable project?" Of course, he's already answered the second question, but clearer insight into the attention to detail necessary in such work is available to anyone who listens.
"Of course, we were aware of the coal plant, but the pump storage (up in Mason County) is so ideal, it's unbeatable." And just so folks see why Steve said "It's just like a giant battery," here goes with the reason behind the mouthwatering appreciation for Pentwater.
A reservoir sits atop a big bluff near Pentwater, overlooking Lake Michigan. The little lake, which would look pretty sizable in any locale other than next door to one of the Great Lakes, has a pump that can use any electricity producing power source to move water from Lake Michigan up the slope. Whenever necessary, that water, flowing through a turbine as it heads down the precipice, can then reproduce the pumping energy for current "whenever somebody needs it."
"So excess power from the Lake can be stored, just like in a big battery. The combination is so uncommon and perfect. Night time filling of the reservoir would allow a kind of arbitrage," a spread that always makes 'smart money' folks salivate, "to capture the difference between peak daylight prices and the low rates paid at night. We'd be getting a double profit with two forms of renewable energy."
While he said that the Coal plant interface in Muskegon would work, "It's just not as perfect." I wonder if the planned phase out of coal in Michigan might present any problems. "Well, the fact that it's an old facility may end up a concern." But he assures me, "the real issue is that, up in Luddington, that 300-foot ridge is a deal you can't pass up. It's perfect."
He clarifies some of the mistaken thinking that I had about how Scandia fits in to the whole process. "We're not part of any demonstration proposal. We proposed conducting studies, two to three years of technical, environmental, and socio-economic studies; Scandia remains ready to invest."
I hear him shake his head. "But we can't change the view. Every single objection was like a code for, 'We don't want to look at the wind farm.'" We discuss research from Europe, and Asia, that suggests that at least as much aesthetic benefit is likely from wind implementation as detraction, but he doesn't think that the problem is amenable to that kind of fact-based presentation necessarily.
"Talking about offshore wind as a concept is always exciting and intense, but as soon as you put a dot on a map, it gets controversial." Thus, the "element of opposition didn't surprise us, but the political leadership was a surprise, not being able to discern vocal minorities from very real majorities, at least two to one," he assures me, referring to surveys that these kinds of folks never want to do in an 'optimistic way.' The worst thing, for a developer, is to 'throw good money after bad.'
He feels pretty certain that the problem is overwhelmingly one of very righteous prima donna homeowners of million dollar properties who were used to getting their way and managed a heck of an e-mail campaign to look more impressive than they were. This is also what Eric Justian told me, and I don't accept it for a minute. He undercuts his own argument.
"Non-residents don't care what happens. The misinformation and disinformation that's trotted out as data, undocumented assertions and so on, it's enough to make you sick." And that doesn't add up, if all that's at stake is aesthetics and property values. People would at least think about choices that would enhance such considerations.
Steve continues, again highlighting why his POV is just too weak to account for the way the deal went down. "How could someone object to studies, unless people fear the results of the study themselves? They don't want to know the facts because the facts wouldn't support the conclusions they've already made."
And I ask, "OK, but who's been drawing those conclusions? Doesn't everything that you say point to other forces in play?"
He pauses. "I don't know. Not necessarily. Maybe. I just don't know."
"What about Lisa Linowes and the Industrial Wind Action Group? Do you have any insights about them?"
He sighs. "I'm only aware through what I read. Google lets you 'prove' any point on anything. It's hard for a regular person to discern what's real and what's complete fabrication."
I conclude, "What is at stake in these energy-policy debates for citizens? For communities and societies? For the world?"
Steve is passionate, quiet but committed. "If you just look at the policy reasoning behind renewables--national defense, good energy mix; I mean it's such a simple business proposition--anybody can see it's the way to go." He's quiet again. "It's a very long process; we're in the early stages. I guarantee that it'll look a lot of different ten years, heck, a few years from now." He repeats, as if he's speaking a mantra. "It requires a lot of patience and diligence, that's all there is to it."
And I hope he's right. And I hope I'm wrong. But, when I think instead of 'pray for rain,' I'm positive that something else is probably going on. Folks should stay tuned.
TEXAS & TRES AMIGAS
Wind in Texas is definitely a huge story instead of this minimalist sidebar. Jim Swafford's cautious circumspection in dealing with me certainly fits with such a view, though in his repeated point that "We're just developers" he may also have been rationalizing a general caution in dealing with all species of media, like a West Texas child finding a snake and dealing with it carefully even if the youngster wasn't positive that it was a rattler.
In any event, both in an upcoming post to expand on the history of utilities and electricity for readers(INTERLINK, Vogtle I), and in a separate investigation into the Texas scene, we will be seeing more of Texas, where "the wind that blows" down from Canada is about as steady as just about any other spot in the Americas. That's why T. Boone bet the ranch on wind, which wager he is still pursuing, despite recent losses in the oil realm.
I asked Mr. Swafford about the deal down in the Lone Star State. "Can you fill me in about 'Tres Amigas?' If so, how would you orient a reader to electricity transmission in the U.S.?"
"As a wind development, the project is viable, more than viable, but it's not a necessity." He was referring to the recent difficulties caused by Occidental Petroleum's and the Energy Reliability Council of Texas(ERCOT)'s objections to Tres Amigas, which he described as a 'dead letter,' but about which "I'm not focused on" at this juncture, because of the other burgeoning options that are full speed ahead at this time.
I first asked for some explanation of "what in the world" Occidental's objections were to a wind farm, at which inquiry I sensed again the boy looking at the snake and thinking, 'it's a rattler, by God.' He referred me to Don Harris, at Tres Amigas, who hasn't called me back yet, so we'll just roll a clearer ascertainment of what was up into our forthcoming 'history of the grid,' where this query 'fits like a glove,' as it were.
Steve Warner had also approached this matter a little gingerly, but he was willing to say that the origination of ERCOT, and the creation of America's three-piece electric transmission network, was "all politics," with nothing to do with economics. He alluded to the desire to avoid a 'knockout blow' during the Cold War, which was a lot more likely if the U.S. had just one delivery structure.
While appealing, in a patriotic, semi-Strangelovian sort of fashion, the problem with this reasoning is that the choice to approach things in this way dates from the 1930's, not the 1950's. The other opinion that Steve Warner offered is more likely accurate, as we'll be deconstructing for readers soon, we'll hope. "The whole thing, really, was probably pretty much just a pure Texas power play." Now that's the 'Eyes of Texas Are Upon You' that I recall.
Jim Swafford did confirm that "Tres Amigas will put the whole grid in sync," and that this is some kind of bone of contention. He must have decided that I wouldn't bite, because he also proffered that Mr. Harris had told him, in a recent update, "They're trying to put everything together. He's saying the vendors are good for the 'super-sub-station,'" the piece of this operation across the border in New Mexico that will play the function of an electron traffic cop in the initial phases of interconnection.
I pressed a little bit about Occidental's objections. "The only thing I could think of," and he paused. "Listen, the Feds are for it, it's part of the international energy highway. I don't know why they don't like it. They asked for a rehearing, and when that was turned down they asked for another rehearing." But that didn't pass muster with the Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission either, so by all lights, the project, a 'game changer,' in the estimation of Eric Behr, ought to be a go.
Returning, with a measure of relish and pride that I could hear, to matters closer at hand and less complicated, he told me. "Parmer County's is a plan for 3,000 Megawatts; 2,000 more is coming from" two other counties. "Our thinking is, 'it's just another project.' We've got a lot going on here already. There's plenty to do."
He mentions an ERCOT project that I'll report more on later, to install Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) power lines designed for usage with industrial wind and other renewable applications. Jim notes, "it's funded by nine developors in the Panhandle; we're one, with 1.2 gigs planned as our part of the feed in, for which we've put up a million dollars up front. Routes are being decided right now, and construction should be started" pretty much any day now.
Mr. Swafford goes through his checklist. "We've got our wind data, leased land, all kinds of community support, partner. The PPA(this is where I learned the acronym for a Purchase Power Agreement" is all that's missing.. he pauses as I catch up to him. Again I hear calm pride. "Out here, there's a great buy-in for wind ownership. I've got over 500 land owners, five hundred thousand acres of leased land."
When I wonder aloud if some of the opposition nationally might be based on 'big stakeholders' in fossil fuels and nuclear, Mr. Swafford withdraws a bit once more. But he notes, "Everybody can have their agenda, but we have all kindsa support out here in the Panhandle." He concludes, "I don't worry about all that right now, because my focus is to develop the site."
Kevin Welch, writing in the Amarillo Globe-News, tells his readers that "Parmer eyes worldâs windiest wind farm," backing up Jim Swafford's resolution. Of course, this is from fifteen months ago.
"Huge losses in oil and gas investments have downsized T. Boone Pickens' plan for the world's largest wind farm, but U.S. and European groups want to build an even bigger one in Parmer County. Scandia Wind Southwest, led by Parmer County resident Jim Swafford, Danish company Alpha Wind Energy APS and Havgul Clean Energy AS of Norway, are working to pull a deal together that would involve 454 owners of 204,000 acres in the northwest corner of the county."
Just a few weeks ago, a three part series spoke of "increasing opposition...around the State." The first installment evokes a scene from Mason County, Michigan.
|"Last week, to cheers from a crowded courtroom, commissioners in Denton County unanimously passed a resolution opposing the construction of a big new transmission line through their county â even though it would carry clean, renewable wind power. Later today, the company that wants to build the line will file a stack of paperwork refuting some of the objections and asking Texas regulators for permission to proceed anyway."|
Man oh man. Here we go again. In following up on this, I discovered yet another supposedly grassroots group, crowing about throwing the CREZ line project under the bus and having another slick, high touch, constantly updated website that covers the 'world of wind' with almost precisely the same headline as Lisa Linowes' Industrial Wind Action Group has.
Wind Watch's reporter wrote, "At a meeting in Austin Wednesday, Sept. 15, the PUC will consider dismissing the proposed McKamey-to-Kendall-to-Gillespie line pending further studies on whether existing lines can be used rather than building new lines. Landowners, local governments and Hill County preservation groups such as Clear View Alliance say the proposed new transmission lineâs 180-foot-tall towers will devalue Hill Country property, deface the landscape, threaten wildlife habitat and hurt the economy."
Folks, this stinks to high heaven, and if I can get the support to follow this up, I'll prove that this and the Michigan opposition are a false front, a complete scam, and a sham against the interests of citizens of this country who overwhelmingly support wind energy. Jim Swafford still sounds cautiously optimistic, but he'd better hope that he gets some back up from sympathetic mediators. Somebody is gunning to gut wind in America.
If capitalism is going to survive without social meltdown, wind energy is one of a handful of hopeful 'frontiers,' which the bourgeois paradigm has ever needed as an outlet to class conflict. On the other hand, if capitalism is going to survive without macro-economic implosion, it must have a massive nuclear transfusion. Unfortunately, these two directions are almost certainly incompatible. Readers may again bow to mistress paradox.
A very specific iteration of one perquisite of journalism may be possible here: advising the mighty. Both Jim Swafford and Steve Warner managed to tell me, at a minimum three or four times apiece, "Oh, I'm (or 'we're) just the developer here," as if to ward off the inquistive gadfly buzzing at the other end of the phone line.
The upshot of this talismanic usage of 'development,' however, may lead to very different conclusions for these estimable businessmen, as a result of the objective potential that Texas is 'special.' In this view, even if EPCOT is being impelled toward the 'dustbin of history' by the inexorable sweep of finance's magisterial greed, the unique history of the Lone Star State will create an arena in which a fellow, like the crafty and wary Jim Swafford, who knows the ropes, and who has access to cash, can operate, if not with aplomb, at least with the hope of doing 'quite well, thanks very much for asking.'
The situation is likely very different for someone in Steve Warner's position. As the irresistible vortex of big business' needs and agendas predominate on the 'playing fields' of the rest of the United States, brandishing the truth that one is 'only a developer,' like a villager brandishing a cross to ward off a serial killer thought to be a vampire, might have equally desultory effect in warding off the killing blow.
I spin out these highly speculative assessments for a reason. Truly, but for his willing Texas farmers who are, much more so than elsewhere on earth, potent actors on their local stage--even the Latifundia of Colombia haven't equal clout--Jim Swafford needs no other community, not now anyway, to ground his business plan. On the other hand, Steve Warner's planting his plans firmly in the soil of democratic community capacity may in fact be a necessary survival strategy.
As my grandmother was wont to say, "a word to the wise is sufficient." Having had my say in this unofficial, and unasked, advisory capacity, I can now turn to this matter of wind, which itself is part of the bigger questions that these articles have been raising about energy policy, democratic dialog, and so forth.
Perhaps Eric and Stever have put their heads together to propagate the view, which they both state pretty clearly, that wind farms, as it were, will blow down the present and help to power the future. However, that perspective certainly looks plausible. The numbers, the need, and the gentle environmental externalities seem to combine to impel America, and much of the rest of the world, toward a windy future.
Despite the tug of such a POV--both intellectual and emotional, both fiscal and social--I remain skeptical. The men in charge of ten trillion dollars of hidden or otherwise non-transparent imperial cash--that's my estimate; I can't back it up, except by challenging anyone to come up with dispositive numbers and share them--have to put that money somewhere that both compounds their interest, to coin a phrase, and that doesn't undercut their political strength. Wind only deals with the first requirement, and while bankruptcy and implosive collapse may be the long-term fate of nuclear energy, in the short run--especially in relation to China, India, Japan, and Korea--it stands as the ultimate bourgeois 'wet-dream.' If this is true, then the compulsive push toward an atomic tomorrow may indeed prove unshakeable, unless organization at once more local, more democratic, and more ideological transpires.
And that brings me back to my observations about 'developers,' that they don't want to quibble theory, instead fixing their focus on getting the deal done and the contracts signed. A more thorough-going social assessment may prove crucial for wind-inclined communities, thinkers, technicians, and businessmen if I'm correct in my beliefs about the current moment in capital's 'long and winding road.'
Other than that, I just ask that readers stay tuned. A lot more story remains to tell about many of these matters, and, insofar as the development of our future energy supply is an interesting yarn, then these supplements will contain at least a few compelling moments.
Were I a different specimen, I'd certainly report this story in a vastly simpler way. Either I'd suck up to some outlet or other that spouts poison in regard to industrial wind development, or I'd be a booster who would make Babbit blush.
Folks who make their way to adulthood in the U.S.A. cannot help but notice that the Chamber of Commerce has a centrally powerful part to play in American life. Despite apologists who insist that he wasn't being crass in his thinking, Calvin Coolidge did sum up this point, whether his ideation was more an aspect of greed or idealism.
"After all, the chief business of the American people is business." However, Coolidge goes on to say that, "Of course the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence."... However, Professor Arthur Schlesinger in Crisis of the Old Order wrote, "(Coolidge's) speeches offered his social philosophy in dry pellets of aphorism. 'The chief business of the American people,' he said, 'is business.' But, for Coolidge, business was more than business; it was a religion; and to it he committed all the passion of his arid nature. 'The man who builds a factory,' he wrote, 'builds a temple. The man who works there worships there.' He (Coolidge) felt these things with a fierce intensity."
But, in this day and age, when the very question of sustaining business is dubious, when websites such as this one draw readers and followers on the basis of 'business...better,' what is going on must be more complicated than worshiping at the lathe or preaching from the pulpit of the boss's office.
Even those commentators with whom the likes of this author find themselves in profound disagreement, the liberals and promulgators of a redefinition of 'free markets' to countenance imperial relationships' continuing somehow, acknowledge that Coolidge's formulation has collapsed. We can listen to them to get our bearings.
|"I have argued that there is no going back to the old moral world we have lost,even if such a reversion were desirable. The unintended cultural consequence of neoliberal policy was to accelerate all the inherent tendencies in late modern societies to deplete the common moral culture.
...(T)he relationship between the permanent revolution of the global market and inherited forms of family and social life is not one of easy coexistence or stable equilibrium. It is one of inherent tension and endemic instability. Individualist market institutions ...detach individuals from localities and communities and weaken commitments to families. They do this by ... routinising high levels of economic risk, so that all relationships come to be perceived as revocable and transitory."
Anyone who doesn't shudder just a bit at these lines either has a very secure trust fund or a fairly cavalier attitude about human connection. This statement from an unabashed 'booster' of markets just nails the present social pass, with all of its tremulous trepidation.
Though I, for one, would call the analytical acuity that this author shows anomalous in relation to calling for more of what called forth the malaise that he identifies, many other thinkers, many of whom we've seen repeatedly, call for a deepening of just the democratic and ethical aspects of our past, in order to have a prayer for a human future. Thus, Brian O'connell calls "civil society," more than anything else, "the underpinnings of American democracy, " including such elements as our "sprawling and deeply layered web of voluntary associations and institutions, religions do more than just preach, people are often ahead of their leaders, and democracy rests on the underpinnings of citizen participation and influence."
And he cautions, asking the likes of us to take note. "No other democracy has lasted as long as ours, so we canât assume it will continue forever." Laying out the decimation of civil society inherent in Tea Parties and such, he continues, "What will happen if these factors worsen (is) selfishness, taking liberty for granted, governmental limits on citizen participation, the influence of special interests on public officials, separation between the haves and have-nots, intolerance, and incivility." None of us should presume that this adds up to 'sustainable business.'
In thinking about wind power, development, energy policy, and the parameters of the present paradigm of commercial operation, I would recommend that we keep squarely in view this sort of thinking about democracy, taking into account the kinds of social-economic assessments that have lain at the heart of these articles, just as they sit at the center of today's posting.
We might recall D.H. Lawrence's lyrical definition of majority rule. "Democracy: a recognition of souls, all down the open road, and a great soul seen in its greatness, as it travels on foot among the rest, down the common way of living."
In such a view, democracy must ever entail social equality, social justice, some measure of recognition of common civil society and adequacy. As Glen Smith wrote, in his three-part exercise, "The Promise of Popular Democracy," "Advocates of classical democracy, better termed popular democracy, focus on political equality and believe democracy to be a system in which the wisdom of individual citizens, expressed directly by initiative or through the election of representatives from among their neighbors, should determine outcomes."
This certainly parallels what I have propounded in these pages. This commitment must, conceivably, precede and supercede a desire to carry out a sweet deal for wind, or the basis for the deal, in all its sweetness, will dissipate and perhaps disappear.
Like Don Harris, we can consider various sources of wisdom in facilitating this in our own lives. "Native Americans believed in responsibility to the âseventh generation,â meaning that
every major act of communal life was to be measured for its impact on the seventh successor generation." This is sustainability; this is 'business better;' this cannot coexist with imperial perquisites and plutocracy.
Or, at the least, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.