Subject: Viridian Note 00379: Blackouts and Diebacks
- New York, Paris, Greenhouse Effect,
political activism, massive casualties, electrical
- Attention Conservation Notice:
a number of different Greenhouse phenomena
into a 3,250-word screed. Grim, glum, scary,
(((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
Nice set of articles here involving actual British
science, as opposed to the increasingly lethal poison
spewed on a frying population by the "Scientific
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*ases.org>
Date: Fri Aug 15, 2003 04:00:11 PM US/Central
To: "ASES Solar Action Network" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: ASES SAN Alert - Northeast Power Blackout
"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
"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
(((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.
"SAMPLE KEY STATEMENTS
"* 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.
"HOW TO WRITE A SUCCESSFUL LETTER TO THE EDITOR
"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
"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
"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*nesea.org with a copy of
your letter and the name and location of the newspaper to
which you submitted it."
RELATED MEDIA STORIES
Blackout hits 50 million in U.S., Canada, Philadelphia
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, Newsday.com, 8/15/03
American Solar Energy Society
2400 Central Ave. Suite G-1
Boulder, CO 80301
303-443-3130 ex 107 (phone)
(((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
"POWER OUTAGE TRACED TO DIM BULB IN WHITE HOUSE
"The Tale of The Brits Who Swiped 800 Jobs From New York,
Carted Off $90 Million, Then Tonight, Turned Off Our
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"See Greg Palast's award-winning reports for BBC
Television and the Guardian papers of Britain at
. Contact Palast at his New York office:
"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.)))
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O+c=O O=c=O O=c=O
LUCKILY FOR THE GNP OF FRANCE,
THE CASUALTIES ARE MOSTLY
POOR AND ELDERLY
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O+c=O O=c=O O=c=O