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Where’s Arnold When We Need Him?

 

The Republican Terminator has shouldered his way into the lead in California’s electoral recall carnival with a promise to “clean house” in a state that suffered through blackouts, brownouts and extortionate electric rate hikes thanks to the corruption and collusive behavior of several Republican and Democratic administrations. Angry at the failure of their air conditioning and at their high electric and tax bills, Californians, pollsters tell us, are turning to Arnie for help. They’ve seen him in action in countless movies, and know he doesn’t fool around!

Now that the Northeast’s electric power grid has been shown to be an even worse disaster than California’s–a direct result of the same passion for electric trading and marketization that led to the Coast’s energy crisis–we need Arnold to come back East and clean house here too, before New Yorkers and Motowners start behaving like electricity-deprived Iraqis in the summer heat, popping off police officers and stripping the copper from transmission lines.

Arnold hasn’t said how he plans to clean up California’s energy crisis, but given his long-term friendship with Kenny Boy Lay, the godfather of electric power trading, we can be sure that it will involve even more deregulation of the power industry. Just as President Bush has one solution for every economic problem–tax cuts–Arnold the BarbarianSer RepublicanSwith Bechtel veteran Charles Schultz and stockmarket investor Warren Buffett as his key advisers, can be expected to have one solution–deregulation–for every power problem.

Just what we need in New York and the rest of the Northeast.

See, it used to be that power plants were designed to serve a particular region. You figured out what the peak usage for a certain region would be, and then build plants in that region that could handle that load, with a certain added margin of safety. The government would estimate the cost of that service, add on a certain level of profit, and there was your electric bill. It was a quaint system, but wholly out of keeping with the national zeitgeist.

So along came the free-marketeers. They argued that electricity should be like stocks or oil or cotton–fully fungible and tradable. Spot and futures markets were established for electric power in short order. Of course, that meant that at some point, somebody would have to take delivery, which meant that you couldn’t have discreet regions anymore. You had to have massive interlinked grids, over which huge amounts of electrons could be shuttled by computer switching. If a grid in the Midwest was willing to pay more for electricity on a given day than the grid in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania power companies could ship their electricity through several intervening grids to the buyer. In theory, this would mean lower prices in the Midwest, and higher prices in Pennsylvania.

Left out of all this of course, is the fact that transmission losses are enormous, with as much as 30 percent of transmitted electricity being lost as heat in the big power trunk lines that had to be built across the heartland, but hey, that’s just economic “friction”. The ratepayers can eat that.

It was, by most accounts, the shuttling around of some of this current that fried parts of the system in the Northeast, and led to the chain reaction of shutdowns of 21 power plants on Thursday.

No doubt the usual crowd of East Coast liberals will blame everything on deregulation, and call for more government control over the power industry, but this would be a terrible idea. Everyone knows that the only things government can do properly, and without screwing up, are: 1) executing people, 2) making war, and 3) preventing sinful behavior.

We need Arnold to take time out from the California recall campaign to come back East, take on these wimpy liberals, and make that case for more freedom for the power industry. If we could just make it easier for them to build more nuclear plants, burn more coal, and eliminate all those energy-wasting stack scrubbers, and if we could allow them to erect more and bigger transmission lines all over the countryside, we wouldn’t be having all these annoying power outages.

Hasta la vista, baby.

Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html

 

 

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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