‘The Real Battle Is, Who’s Going to Own the Energy Supply?’ – CounterSpin interview with Harvey Wasserman on renewables and nuclear energy

Janine Jackson interviewed Harvey Wasserman about renewables and nuclear power for the July 29, 2016, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Harvey Wasserman: (image: Ecological Options Network)

Harvey Wasserman: “These guys running around defending nuclear power aren’t just defending nuclear power. What they’re really about is protecting the grid, which is corporate-owned and corporate-controlled.” (image: Ecological Options Network)


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MP3 Link

Janine Jackson: When you think of impediments to fighting climate change, you might think of the power of the fossil fuel industry, or corporate globalization running roughshod over people’s effort to tend to their environments as they have, in some cases, for millennia. A recent New York Times article finds a different villain: renewable energy, or, in Times reporter Eduardo Porter’s words, “the United States’ infatuation with renewable energy.” It’s a puzzling assertion, even before you get to what Porter says is the most worrisome development–that renewables are pushing out nuclear power, which he describes repeatedly as producing “zero carbon” electricity.

What’s going on here? To help us sort through it, we’re joined by activist and journalist Harvey Wasserman, author of, among other titles, Solartopia: Our Green-Powered Earth. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Harvey Wasserman.

Harvey Wasserman: It’s great to be with you, Janine. Thank you.

JJ: Well, in this July 19 piece, Eduardo Porter says, “The United States and indeed the world would do well to reconsider the promise and the limitations of its infatuation with renewable energy”–though there isn’t actually anything in it to hint at the “promise” part. Besides the article’s undercurrent about people being too stupid to know what’s good for them, which is irritating, what’s wrong with the picture that the Times is presenting here?

HW: Well, the question is what’s right with it. I mean, this guy had really dug deep to come up with arguments against renewable energy, none of which make any sense unless you’re working for the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries, or what I call King CONG–coal, oil, nukes and gas. The Times has been a cheerleader for nuclear power right since Hiroshima; they’re not letting up. And in this article, Eduardo Porter–I don’t know what drugs these guys take, but he’s basically saying that renewable energy is harming the fight against climate change because it’s bankrupting nuclear power. I mean…

And then he goes to these great lengths to say things that are absolutely false about nuclear power, the idea that it’s cheap, that it’s clean, and that it gives us base-load power, completely ignoring the fact that the grid on which nuclear power sends its electricity is completely obsolete, outmoded, and that we are moving to an energy economy that’s based on decentralized and distributed generation rather than central generation. It’s like this guy is arguing against cell phones because they’re putting out land lines. That’s basically the argument he’s making, and it’s utterly insane.

JJ: Just on a point of fact, because it’s something that not just Porter and not just the Times, but it’s a thing that we see repeatedly, the idea that nuclear is zero carbon. Real quick, how is that justified? Nuclear power is not zero carbon.

HW: Yeah, well, first of all, just for a slight detail, all nuclear power plants emit carbon 14. Now, it’s small quantities, but it is there. Just like they said there was zero odds on a nuclear power plant blowing up, and now five of them have exploded.

And secondly and most importantly, nuclear power plants operate on uranium fuel pellets, which cause a tremendous amount of pollution in their production, both in the mining and the milling process, especially in the enrichment process. There’s tremendous amounts of carbon emissions invested in every fuel pellet that’s inside the core of a nuclear plant. It’s simply a false argument.

And it’s annoying, and it’s totally corporate-driven by an industry that’s desperate to preserve its investments in coal, oil, nukes and gas, and are being driven out of business by solar energy. And it’s astounding to see the so-called journal of record writing Orwellian articles that completely ignore reality and that are pushing an obsolete paradigm as well as some really dangerous fallacies.

JJ: Well, what Porter seems to be saying is — I mean, what he says in the piece is that, well, renewables produce temporary gluts in power, and that drives out other sources. And he talks about how there are spikes in prices when the wind isn’t blowing or when the sun isn’t shining. I mean, the substance of the argument is, well, it might sound good, but it’s not working. How do you get at that?

HW: Well, there’s a little word that was invented by Benjamin Franklin that he has omitted from this article, which is “battery.” Everybody knows that battery technology is now being advanced, there’s a billion-dollar gigafactory being built in Nevada. All across the world, the battery industry is gearing up, and nobody who follows this technology doubts that within five years, there will be a major revolution in battery technology, which will go into houses and factories and automobiles and machinery, that will carry us over the so-called intermittent problem with renewable energy. I mean, this is no mystery.

This article also does not mention the words “rooftop solar.” The real revolution in renewables is photovoltaic cells on rooftops of all the homes and all the factories and all the businesses in the world that will get rid of the grid. The grid is obsolete, it’s 20th century technology, it really came in in the 1880s, when Edison invented the utility industry, and it’s on its way out. And this article, really, by Porter, and so much other hype that we see around the industry’s PR machine, completely ignores the obvious transformation that’s happening in the energy business. It’s astonishing.

JJ: I think you’re touching something that is going to be not necessarily what listeners have heard about. We feel like we’re in a thing where fossil fuels, we’re trying to change them to renewables. But you put your finger on a deeper shift which is not so obvious, and that is, just what you’re saying, from this centralized, grid-based, corporate control to decentralized, citizen-based, community control. And when you say it like that, it gets a little easier to understand why there would be pushback.

HW: Well, I did a very elaborate article on EcoWatch.com, which people might want to look at, dissecting this piece. Because it was so twisted, and it really requires that you go just one step below. These guys running around defending nuclear power aren’t just defending nuclear power. What they’re really about is protecting the grid, which is corporate-owned and corporate-controlled, and the real battle here in the energy world is who’s going to own the energy supply. Is it going to be the corporations with their centralized grid and these coal, oil, nuke and gas burners, or is it going to be the public with a decentralized post-grid reality that’s based on solar panels and, to a certain extent, wind and biofuels and all the other stuff that you can do on a decentralized basis?

And that’s really what the bigger battle is about. And, of course, the grid and the fossil nuclear industry are not ecologically sustainable, and they do mean the end of the Earth. Whereas the decentralized grid, we can balance it in harmony with Mother Nature, and build technologies or use technologies that work in harmony with the planet, and maybe we can actually survive.

JJ: That sounds like a good idea!

Let me just say, finally, we can see, then, where the fear is coming from, and there clearly is a campaign at work, because Porter’s done this before, the Times has done this before. We just saw the Wall Street Journal a few weeks back claiming that the big environmental groups are now changing their stance and embracing nuclear. There’s clearly an effort to change people’s minds about this. So for those who might think, well, everyone gets that renewables are better and it’s just going to happen–there still is a fight on, is there not?

HW: Well, it’s worse than that, because ALEC, the Koch brothers’ front group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is going state-by-state and passing laws that limit and even roll back the progress of the renewable energy industry. They’ve imposed, for example, statewide limits on how much renewables can be put into the grid. Southern California, Los Angeles, should become the world’s first solartopian megalopolis, where the whole city should be on solar, and there are actually legal limits as to how much solar generation you can do on your own house. They will not allow solar installers, who are licensed to put solar panels on your house, that will generate more power than you actually use. It’s ridiculous.

And this is all part of the corporate attempt, the fossil-nuclear industry’s attempt to stop the revolution in renewables. Because everybody knows, including the utility industry, that the solar revolution, the solartopian transition, means the end of the centralized utility industry, and that’s what they’re fighting to preserve. And unfortunately, it’s at the expense of our public health and the survivability of the planet.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Harvey Wasserman. You can find his book Solartopia online at Solartopia.org, along with, soon, the forthcoming America at the Brink of Rebirth: The Organic Spiral of US History. Thank you very much, Harvey Wasserman, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

HW: Well, thank you, Janine. Anytime.


This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission from FAIR.