The Words of the Carlson Family

Powering California

Paul Carlson
July, 2001

This month's article has a regional focus, but it has relevance to the entire nation. The news has been filled with stories of California's power crisis. Electricity, natural gas, and gasoline have all been in short supply here, and customers are paying record prices for all three. The only thing that hasn't been scarce is the passing of blame.

As a Californian, this author has received expressions of concern from around the country. One friend even sent me an emergency flashlight. (And then there's all those jokes...)

This energy crisis has been decades in the making, and will require many years to solve. Very few people seem to comprehend the full situation, or even the basics of the free market economy.

There is more than enough blame to go around. Most of the participants deserve plenty. To top it off, certain activists are doing everything they can to prevent a solution!

Because the Unification News is a religious publication, I'm writing this article without naming specific persons or parties. Anyone who's interested can fill in the details from a variety of sources.


Electricity was first harnessed more than 150 years ago. Along with steam engines, it enabled the Industrial Revolution. After a rocky start, this provided more wealth and plenty, to all social classes, than at any time in history.

However, beginning with the first Luddites, it's also had opponents. Western intellectuals have a long history of radical utopianism. In their hypothetical new world, industrial advancement would be governed by a new principle, in which only 'appropriate technology' is used. Pollution is out, and 'access by the poorest' is in. Beyond that, though cloaked in some imposing language, things become rather vague.

One good way to grasp this mindset is through its fiction. Read Ernest Callenbach's novel Ecotopia, or its longer prequel Ecotopia Arising. (Ecotopia's Crick School is based upon a private school I attended with Callenbach's son.)

In California, such ideas reached the highest levels. In 1973 the Governor proclaimed an 'Era of Limits.' All major road, dam, and electric power projects were canceled. Nuclear power became the ultimate bogeyman. California's current Governor was a powerful state official (Chief of Staff) back then.

Supposedly, the population would stabilize as the masses came into harmony with nature. In reality, many Americans moved west, and millions more immigrated, both legally and illegally. Nearly everyone decided to keep their cars, and insisted on using air conditioners on hot days.

Today, California has jammed freeways, and is short of electricity and water. State-funded ads are boasting about a dozen new power plants being built in a hurry; while at the same time, Texas is quietly building forty-five.


What caused this crisis? Most Californians blame the 'deregulation process.' Several years ago the state laws were changed, but only a part of the system was deregulated. The details are thorny, but when examined, the plan itself looks absolutely bizarre; an almost guaranteed failure.

Yet that plan passed unanimously, with the support of both major political parties. At the same time, politicians from both parties, from the Governor on down, were accepting large contributions from the energy companies. (Now they've loudly sworn them off.)

In a twist of logic, many are blaming Texas, and its prosperous energy companies. As in: they own a bunch of power plants, and "how dare they get rich" selling it to us. Threats have been made, from the very personal, to the idea of the state seizing control of all power plants.

It's amazing that those companies would risk any of their money or talent in this state. Recently this author made a delivery to a huge construction project, where the new owner is doubling the size of an older, oil-fired power plant. When completed, it'll be the largest in the state.

In one construction shack I saw a big diagram of the main systems of the plant. It looked like a combination of spilled spaghetti and alphabet soup-in Greek. If the politicians think they can handle this stuff themselves, after tossing out "those greedy energy companies," then California will end up like the old Soviet Union.

On the other hand, real greed may well be involved. Unpaid bills, bankrupt utilities, regulatory costs, air quality fines, and other factors have combined to increase the cost of electricity from $30 per kilowatt-hour to as much as $1900, in just two years. While trying to obey a rash of zig-zagging state instructions, and (perhaps) without breaking any laws, the energy companies have managed to rake in spectacular profits.

Now 'price caps' have become the popular watchword. But, as most politicians apparently don't understand, low prices discourage conservation. Also, without potential profits, no one will invest in new power plants.


Why doesn't California get busy with construction? It's not that simple here. There are activists who seriously intend to live without an electrical grid. The ideals of Ecotopia have been adopted by some very influential people, by several minor political parties, and by almost every environmental group.

This author used to belong to the largest such group. I enjoyed backpacking, and stayed at their beautiful lodge in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Lately, they've become dominated by high-powered lawyers and slick fundraisers. I wonder if John Muir would even recognize it. Still, they remain true to their radical ideology.

They oppose all new dams, and want to tear down existing ones. Fish come first, and forget clean water or clean hydropower.

Against greenhouse gasses? They oppose zero-emission nuclear plants. (Note: since the 1950s, nobody in America has died from nuclear power. The notorious Three Mile Island event didn't even have a measurable effect on the health of Pennsylvanians.)

Forget that nasty coal or oil. Natural gas, the top choice for new power plants, is getting very expensive. And, drilling is to be banned across large swaths of the country.

Are these environmentalists totally negative? They do like to tout 'renewable energy.' But that has problems as well.

Build windmills? The Altamont Pass is carpeted with thousands of tall, elegant windmills. (I drive by them all the time.) They never feature in the local 'blackout watch' news reports. The wind doesn't blow all the time! They also have a reputation for chopping up hawks and eagles.

How about solar power? You can power your house partially from solar panels, for an initial investment of about $18,000. Assuming you own a house with a great big roof. Some housing tracts are going to incorporate them into their new buildings, an excellent idea.

However, retrofitting every house would cost too much. Also, manufacturing solar panels is a lot like making computer chips. The process is ultra-toxic.

Why are environmentalists so adamant? Many believe that nature is a Goddess, and modern humans a plague upon the Earth. Read Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, which clearly portrays the mindset of such people.

Of course they have some legitimate concerns. No one likes pollution. Strangely, they remain silent about the fastest increasing polluter of all, mainland China.

The Future

Many Americans are snickering at California. They should understand that the same forces are at work everywhere. Even in California, the real pinch has not completely been felt.

No one believes that the world's crude oil will last forever. Most people think it should all be extracted for use, and if they don't, a few more rolling blackouts will probably change their minds.

Meanwhile, energy research continues. Nuclear fission is safer than ever, and fusion power remains a tantalizing possibility. Solar power plants based in outer space could harvest vast amounts of clean energy.

As Californians have proved, it is possible to conserve much energy. Their efforts have already avoided many rolling blackouts. Newer appliances, light bulbs, etc., are notably more efficient. Superconducting circuitry, and other future technologies, will require very little electricity.

Ultimately there must be an ideological solution. Nothing else will get to the heart of this issue. The Divine Principle describes our times as the culmination of many historical progressions, and specifically mentions nuclear power.

Greed, pollution, and extremism can all be overcome. A discerning public can elect some competent leaders. Two centuries ago, American were worried about blackouts, due to a shortage of whale oil for their lamps. Someday soon, a united humanity will solve the power crisis once and for all.

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