The Viridian Design Movement

Subject: Viridian Note 00379: Blackouts and Diebacks

Key concepts:
New York, Paris, Greenhouse Effect, political activism, massive casualties, electrical failure
Attention Conservation Notice:
Conflates a number of different Greenhouse phenomena into a 3,250-word screed. Grim, glum, scary, savagely partisan.

(((This is some kind of summer, eh? Carloads of dead killed by heat in France, plus the largest electrical blackout in American history.)))


Join other Viridians and report your situation on our "How's Your Weather" guest map.

"French Officials Report Up to 3,000 Heat-Related Deaths." "Morgues and funeral homes, meanwhile, were overrun with bodies. Some hospitals requisitioned kitchen refrigerators to hold the dead, while others put up tents to keep corpses before burial, Pelloux said. A morgue in Longjumeau, a suburb south of Paris, rented an air- conditioned tent to house corpses."

Too bad the French authorities failed to put up some of these prescient Viridian health-warning posters.

A new denial gang has sprung up inside Britain, featuring many of the usual American malefactors. There has got to be Esso money (read: Exxon-Mobil) behind this somewhere.

Nice set of articles here involving actual British science, as opposed to the increasingly lethal poison spewed on a frying population by the "Scientific Alliance."

The history of American blackouts.

Phonecam-blogging the most recent blackout.

(((The American Solar Energy Society, in a sudden attack of political acumen, thinks it is jumping right on top of some big momentum here.)))

Source: American Solar Energy Society

From: "Carolyn Beach" <cbeach*>

Date: Fri Aug 15, 2003 04:00:11 PM US/Central

To: "ASES Solar Action Network" <>

Subject: ASES SAN Alert - Northeast Power Blackout Response

"American Solar Energy Society Solar Action Alert August 15, 2003

"Many ASES members in the Northeast have been affected by the power blackout that occurred yesterday and is still continuing in many areas. ASES' Chapter local to that area, the Northeast Solar Energy Association (NESEA), promptly sent out an alert to members of their network and graciously permitted ASES to forward it on to the rest of our membership. The alert is reproduced below with one or two ASES additions.


"On Thursday, August 14, the northeastern and mid- western U.S. experienced the largest blackout in this country's history. Mass transit systems ground to a halt, oil refineries were forced to shut down, the FAA stopped flights into airports, nuclear reactors were taken offline, and millions were left without power. The blackouts affected approximately 50 million people over a 9,300-square-mile area. New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told reporters, 'All of a sudden, a few things weren't working and then you realized how dependent we are on electricity.'

"Yesterday's events cascaded out of control because the grid was stressed by high air-conditioning demand from the heat. Almost the entire United States was at temperatures near or above 90 degrees. Because of this enormous energy load it did not take much of a trigger to send the energy delivery system down. As one would expect during hot weather, the solar resource was excellent and nearly ideal in most of the stressed regions of the country. A dispersed base of solar energy could have reduced the overall delivery system stress and lowered the risk of catastrophic failure.

(((Uh... sort of. If solar is tied into the grid, then it will go down when the grid goes. If it's independent of the grid, then it's not much use.)))

"Thursday's blackouts were a wake-up call, (((I hope you can get a "wake-up call" during a blackout))) reminding us that North America's electrical grid is a dysfunctional system that requires dramatic changes. Rising electricity consumption is a significant factor in the instability of the grid. Yet energy-saving products and technologies are widely available. More efficient appliances, compact fluorescent lights, better-constructed buildings, and forms of renewable energy such as solar and wind power can dramatically reduce the amount of electricity we draw from the grid and in most cases ultimately save us money.

"While electricity is on the public's mind and in the press, please use this opportunity to write a letter to the editor of your local paper about the benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency. This is also an opportune moment to remind people that the instability of the power grid is only one of many reasons why we need to change our energy system. For example, if we use less electricity and get more of the electricity we use from solar, wind, and fuel cells distributed locally, it will also slow global warming and reduce air pollution. Below are a couple of sample messages to help get you started.


"* We can improve the electricity generation and distribution system and help avoid blackouts by using less electricity and producing power independently through renewable energy, such as wind and solar.

"* Now is the time for America to commit to using less electricity and to speeding the installation of distributed energy systems, such as rooftop solar panels, fuel cells, and small wind turbines. Not only would this decrease the likelihood of future blackouts, but it would slow global warming and reduce air pollution.

"* If everyone in our community were to replace one of their old appliances with a new energy-efficient one, we could significantly reduce our reliance on the electrical grid and help avoid blackouts such as the one that recently affected 50 million people.

"* The solar panels on my home provide independent, clean electricity that doesn't contribute to blackouts.


"There is a good chance that your local newspaper will run a letter from you if it is tied into the recent blackouts. The chances of getting your letter in print are much greater at smaller, weekly newspapers (some of these run virtually all the letters they receive), but, depending upon the letter, it may be worth trying a larger daily paper.

"Send your letter to the editorial page editor, with a cover note making it clear that you are requesting that the letter be included in the letters-to-the-editor section of the newspaper. Offer to provide more information. Make sure to include your address and phone number, so that the editor will know how to contact you for verification or further information.

"Your letter will have a much greater chance of appearing if it is short (no more than 150 words), personal, and clearly linked to the local community. Focus on making one major point, rather than raising lots of issues.

"It is neither necessary nor desirable to mention your connection to NESEA and the NESEA Network. It is more useful to tie the letter into any personal or professional experience you have with the subject of your letter.

"Aim to get the letter to the newspaper at least one week before you would like it to appear.

"Please let us know if you take action! Just send an email message to NESEANetwork* with a copy of your letter and the name and location of the newspaper to which you submitted it."


Blackout hits 50 million in U.S., Canada, Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/15/03

Blackout hits Northeast; thousands here lose power, Buffalo News, 8/15/03

Great blackout of '03, Boston Globe, 8/15/2003

Various coverage, New York Times, 8/15/03

Various coverage,, 8/15/03

Carolyn Beach
Membership Coordinator
American Solar Energy Society
2400 Central Ave. Suite G-1
Boulder, CO 80301
303-443-3130 ex 107 (phone)
303-443-3212 (FAX)

(((Okay, that's some nice glass-roots astroturf action there == "Write the editor, but for heaven's sake don't reveal that it was us." In the meantime, let's turn from this meek solar agitprop to a considerably more savage realpolitik assessment of what just happened.)))

Source: Greg Palast


"The Tale of The Brits Who Swiped 800 Jobs From New York, Carted Off $90 Million, Then Tonight, Turned Off Our Lights"

ZNet Friday, August 15, 2003 by Greg Palast

"I can tell you all about the ne'er-do-wells that put out our lights tonight. I came up against these characters == the Niagara Mohawk Power Company == some years back. You see, before I was a journalist, I worked for a living, as an investigator of corporate racketeers. In the 1980s, 'NiMo' built a nuclear plant, Nine Mile Point, a brutally costly piece of hot junk for which NiMo and its partner companies charged billions to New York State's electricity ratepayers.

"To pull off this grand theft by kilowatt, the NiMo-led consortium fabricated cost and schedule reports, then performed a Harry Potter job on the account books. In 1988, I showed a jury a memo from an executive from one partner, Long Island Lighting, giving a lesson to a NiMo honcho on how to lie to government regulators. The jury ordered LILCO to pay $4.3 billion and, ultimately, put them out of business.

"And that's why, if you're in the Northeast, you're reading this by candlelight tonight. Here's what happened. After LILCO was hammered by the law, after government regulators slammed Niagara Mohawk and dozens of other book-cooking, document-doctoring utility companies all over America with fines and penalties totaling in the tens of billions of dollars, the industry leaders got together to swear never to break the regulations again. Their plan was not to follow the rules, but to ELIMINATE the rules. They called it 'deregulation.'

"It was like a committee of bank robbers figuring out how to make safecracking legal.

"But they dare not launch the scheme in the USA. Rather, in 1990, one devious little bunch of operators out of Texas, Houston Natural Gas, operating under the alias 'Enron,' talked an over-the-edge free-market fanatic, Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, into licensing the first completely deregulated power plant in the hemisphere.

"And so began an economic disease called 'regulatory reform' that spread faster than SARS. Notably, Enron rewarded Thatcher's Energy Minister, one Lord Wakeham, with a bushel of dollar bills for 'consulting' services and a seat on Enron's board of directors. The English experiment proved the viability of Enron's new industrial formula: that the enthusiasm of politicians for deregulation was in direct proportion to the payola provided by power companies.

(((There we go, then. The thesis: deregulated power utilities become a giant political slush fund for deregulators. The politicians then take the money and buy media for elections, creating a giant fossil-powered political machine that slowly fries the populace. One wonders if writing personal letters to the editor of small-town newspapers is likely to redress this situation.)))

"The power elite first moved on England because they knew Americans wouldn't swallow the deregulation snake oil easily. The USA had gotten used to cheap power available at the flick of switch. This was the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt who, in 1933, caged the man he thought to be the last of the power pirates, Samuel Insull.

"Wall Street wheeler-dealer Insull created the Power Trust, and six decades before Ken Lay, faked account books and ripped off consumers. To frustrate Insull and his ilk, FDR gave us the Federal Power Commission and the Public Utilities Holding Company Act which told electricity companies where to stand and salute. Detailed regulations limited charges to real expenditures plus a government-set profit. The laws banned power 'trading' and required companies to keep the lights on under threat of arrest == no blackout blackmail to hike rates.

"Of particular significance as I write here in the dark, (((okay, maybe I'm not swallowing Mr. Palast's entire pitch here, but I really have to admire this introductory clause))) regulators told utilities exactly how much they had to spend to insure the system stayed in repair and the lights stayed on. Bureaucrats crawled along the wire and, like me, crawled through the account books, to make sure the power execs spent customers' money on parts and labor. If they didn't, we'd whack'm over the head with our thick rule books. Did we get in the way of these businessmen's entrepreneurial spirit? Damn right we did.

"Most important, FDR banned political contributions from utility companies == no 'soft' money, no 'hard' money, no money PERIOD.

"But then came George the First. In 1992, just prior to his departure from the White House, President Bush Senior gave the power industry one long deep-through-the- teeth kiss good-bye: federal deregulation of electricity. It was a legacy he wanted to leave for his son, the gratitude of power companies which ponied up $16 million for the Republican campaign of 2000, seven times the sum they gave Democrats.

"But Poppy Bush's gift of deregulating of wholesale prices set by the feds only got the power pirates halfway to the plunder of Joe Ratepayer. For the big payday they needed deregulation at the state level. There were only two states, California and Texas, big enough and Republican enough to put the electricity market con into operation.

"California fell first. The power companies spent $39 million to defeat a 1998 referendum pushed by Ralph Nader which would have blocked the de-reg scam. Another $37 million was spent on lobbying and lubricating the campaign coffers of the state's politicians to write a lie into law: in the deregulation act's preamble, the Legislature promised that deregulation would reduce electricity bills by 20%. In fact, when in the first California city to go 'lawless,' San Diego, the 20% savings became a 300% jump in surcharges.

"Enron circled California and licked its lips. As the number one contributor to the George W. Bush campaigns, it was confident about the future. With just a half dozen other companies it controlled at times 100% of the available power capacity needed to keep the Golden State lit. Their motto, 'your money or your lights.'

"Enron and its comrades played the system like a broken ATM machine, yanking out the bills. For example, in the shamelessly fixed 'auctions' for electricity held by the state, Enron bid, in one instance, to supply 500 megawatts of electricity over a 15 megawatt line. That's like pouring a gallon of gasoline into a thimble == the lines would burn up if they attempted it. Faced with blackout because of Enron's destructive bid, the state was willing to pay anything to keep the lights on.

"And the state did. According to Dr. Anjali Sheffrin, economist with the California state Independent System Operator which directs power deliveries, between May and November 2000, three power giants physically or 'economically' withheld power from the state and concocted enough false bids to cost the California customers over $6.2 billion in excess charges.

"It took until December 20, 2000, with the lights going out on the Golden Gate, for President Bill Clinton, once a deregulation booster, to find his lost Democratic soul and impose price caps in California and ban Enron from the market.

"But the light-bulb buccaneers didn't have to wait long to put their hooks back into the treasure chest. Within seventy-two hours of moving into the White House, while he was still sweeping out the inaugural champagne bottles, George Bush the Second reversed Clinton's executive order and put the power pirates back in business in California. Enron, Reliant (aka Houston Industries), TXU (aka Texas Utilities) and the others who had economically snipped California's wires knew they could count on Dubya, who as governor of the Lone Star state cut them the richest deregulation deal in America.

"Meanwhile, the deregulation bug made it to New York where Republican Governor George Pataki and his industry- picked utility commissioners ripped the lid off electric bills and relieved my old friends at Niagara Mohawk of the expensive obligation to properly fund the maintenance of the grid system.

(((Just for a refreshing change of partisan pace, I'll toss in a few links here showing Governor Pataki's praiseworthy interests in clean, renewable power for New York State.)))

"And the Pataki-Bush Axis of Weasels permitted something that must have former New York governor Roosevelt spinning in his wheelchair in Heaven: They allowed a foreign company, the notoriously incompetent National Grid of England, to buy up NiMo, get rid of 800 workers and pocket most of their wages == producing a bonus for NiMo stockholders approaching $90 million.

"Is tonight's black-out a surprise? Heck, no, not to us in the field who've watched Bush's buddies flick the switches across the globe. In Brazil, Houston Industries seized ownership of Rio de Janeiro's electric company. The Texans (aided by their French partners) fired workers, raised prices, cut maintenance expenditures and, CLICK! the juice went out so often the locals now call it, 'Rio Dark.'

"So too the free-market British buckaroos controlling Niagara Mohawk raised prices, slashed staff, cut maintenance and CLICK! == New York joins Brazil in the Dark Ages. (((Well, at least it's hot enough to samba.)))

"Californians have found the solution to the deregulation disaster: re-call the only governor in the nation with the cojones to stand up to the electricity price fixers. And unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gov. Gray Davis stood alone against the bad guys without using a body double. Davis called Reliant Corp of Houston a pack of 'pirates' == and now he'll walk the plank for daring to stand up to the Texas marauders.

(((I give up on trying to predict California politics, but they are the lab rat of America, and to watch their political enterprise come apart at the seams like a paper pinata is a grim harbinger for America elsewhere.)))

"So where's the President? Just before he landed on the deck of the Abe Lincoln, the White House was so concerned about our brave troops facing the foe that they used the cover of war for a new push in Congress for yet more electricity deregulation. This has a certain logic: there's no sense defeating Iraq if a hostile regime remains in California.

"Sitting in the dark, as my laptop battery runs low, I don't know if the truth about deregulation will ever see the light == until we change the dim bulb in the White House."

"See Greg Palast's award-winning reports for BBC Television and the Guardian papers of Britain at
. Contact Palast at his New York office: media*

"Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, 'The Best Democracy Money Can Buy' (Penguin USA) and the worstseller, 'Democracy and Regulation,' a guide to electricity deregulation published by the United Nations (written with T. MacGregor and J. Oppenheim)."

(((I do hope you can read this email... Not only is power patchy in the American northeast, but in Britain, the Internet's melting.)))


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