Re: California's Position on the Energy Crisis]

From: Gordon Mohr (
Date: Mon Apr 16 2001 - 23:46:49 PDT

I like this take, from SFWeekly in January, even better:

[I sent it to FoRK then, but it doesn't appear in the archives,
so maybe it got eaten by the net.]

I get a special chuckle out of the following segment, even
though I love New Jersey:

# California's loss of face is tragic for all Americans. The rest of the
# country revels in our pain, but they know not what they do. The idea of
# California -- of limitless possibilities, of endless self-invention -- is
# the idea of all America. When New Jersey yokels sneer at us, they mock the
# possibility that their lives will ever be more than New Jersey lives. For
# them, for their children, we must redeem ourselves from this humiliation.


# 01/31/2001 # # Don't Let Them Turn Out the Lights # It's time for consumers to take back California # By Matt Smith # # Last week, as I stood in the rain in front of a South of Market barroom # awaiting a man called "Pud," I perceived the end of all that is good: of # the idea of California, of America, of all hope for redemption in this # modern world. # # Pud runs a New York Web site called, dedicated to # ridiculing failed Internet firms, mostly Californian. Pud, whose real name # is Philip Kaplan, announced to his thousands of cultish followers earlier # this month that he would be visiting the bar, so fans crammed inside until # there was no room. Fifty more stood in the rain waiting an hour for their # turn to see Pud. # # To me this scene -- once-proud Californians braving cold rain to touch the # sleeve of a man devoted to mocking them -- served as a perfect metaphor # for how far we have fallen during the last couple months. Our amazing # Internet industry has gone down the tubes. Our electricity system has # fallen apart. We're the sixth-largest economy in the world, America's # promised land, and we're a laughingstock. Monday's newspapers, which # quoted our president and vice president gleefully telling Californians to # shove it up our collective rear, seemed to confirm this. # # "Can't California just go into the Pacific now?" said one of more than 350 # FuckedCompany readers who posted comments about Pud's California visit. # "All this whining and complaining that there's no juice to run the # Jacuzzis and there's no way to heat up Hot Pockets in the microwave -- # shut up, you causers-of-your-own misery!" # # -------------------------------------------------------------------------- # # California's loss of face is tragic for all Americans. The rest of the # country revels in our pain, but they know not what they do. The idea of # California -- of limitless possibilities, of endless self-invention -- is # the idea of all America. When New Jersey yokels sneer at us, they mock the # possibility that their lives will ever be more than New Jersey lives. For # them, for their children, we must redeem ourselves from this humiliation. # # As redemption often arrives in unexpected forms, Californians must look to # outsiders' most bitter complaints as we fashion our coming renaissance. If # they say we are flaky materialists, then we must embrace and enrich our # materialistic side. If they say we're trend-mongers, then we must # aggressively court new ideas. If they say we're sanctimonious and # arrogant, then we must rise and show them -- all of them living in that # fetid sea outside California -- who their masters really are. To do this, # we're going to need electricity -- lots of it. # # To save our electricity system, our economy, and our dignity, California # must tap into its most loathed, feared, and cherished primal life force: # consumerism. If nothing else, California's energy crisis has shown that # Gray Davis, the utilities, and the state bureaucracy have wound themselves # so tightly together that they share the same sinews. It is inconceivable # that this beast will propose a solution that is equitable for most # citizens. If we are to prevail, the people of California must act in a way # that gives them real power: in masses, as consumers. We must stake our own # claim, then defend it, just as California pioneers always have. # # -------------------------------------------------------------------------- # # Sadly, in the debate surrounding California's energy crisis, both sides # seek to silence our inner consumer. # # The 1996 "deregulation" scheme lobbied into place by PG&E and SoCal Edison # positively prohibited true consumer choice. Indeed, one of the energy # crisis' most humiliating moments came last week, when the last of the # environmentally friendly "green" utility companies that were supposed to # have represented "competition" under the new, market-oriented scheme quit # the game. # # "Due to the recent instability of the California electricity market, we # are not offering Green Mountain Energy to California residents at this # time," according to a note on the company's Web site. "We believe it is in # your best interest to stay with your current electric service provider and # do what you can to conserve energy." # # The socialize-everything lefties among us, meanwhile, appear on talk shows # demanding that the power grid be nationalized, or state-ized, as the case # may be. Back-of-the-napkin calculations suggest such a measure would cost # $50 billion just to buy plants now in existence. More billions would be # required to buy generating potential now in the works, and still more # would be required to battle years of "takings" lawsuits, which would, as # sure as electricity turns night into day, enrich the out-of-state # utilities that have made us buffoons. Presumably we'd obtain the necessary # funds by decimating California's general fund, its bond rating, or both. # All so we don't have to bother with having to choose. Choice is a burden, # they say -- just look at the airlines, with their crazy fares, and the # telephone companies, pestering us all the time. People don't really like # consumer choice. They just say they do. # # -------------------------------------------------------------------------- # # I might have believed these people had I not happened to find myself last # week inside the cavernous interior of Costco. I don't go there often, and # was therefore unprepared for the rush of consumerist energy that filled my # chest. Witless, I bought 15 pounds of farm-raised trout, eight pounds of # fresh pork loin and an extra-large bottle of Baileys Irish Cream. The # millions of pieces of Costco merchandise produced a muted, euphoric # version of Tourette's syndrome, which I shared with around 5,000 nameless # kin. # # This consumerist Force is the shared patrimony of all Californians; we # must use it for good. In California individuals communicate with one # another through possessions; we hide from one another behind possessions; # much of what we see and say and understand has to do, in one way or # another, with our choice of what to buy. # # The fact that citizens haven't managed to include electricity in this # conceptual universe represents a disastrous waste of human potential. # # One of the many ways California's consumerist power remains untapped in # the world of electricity at a time when it is most needed is illustrated # by the market for photovoltaic solar panels. By normal economic logic, # Central Valley housing tract developers should be perching panels atop # subdivisions so prodigiously they'd be seen from space. Photovoltaic # technology has become efficient enough that homeowners can recoup their # money within 10 to 15 years, which is a short enough span to make for an # effective investment, says an architect friend of mine who specializes in # solar buildings. But large-scale housing developers aren't typically # willing to add the price of solar cells to the price of a house. They # don't figure home buyers will pay for it, and largely they're right. # Consumers have been taught not to consider electricity as subject to # consumer choice -- even when the right choice could save them thousands of # dollars in the long run. If Californians were to unleash their inner # rational consumer and install next-generation solar panels on mile after # mile of rooftop, the enviro-bashing rednecks in the Bush administration # might feel compelled to shut their mouths. # # -------------------------------------------------------------------------- # # This week, representatives for the owners of around 500 of the Bay Area's # largest office buildings are negotiating a huge electricity agreement with # Enron Corp. Enron would offer individual contracts of two to three years # at a rate pre-negotiated by the Building Owners and Managers Associations # (BOMA) of San Francisco, Oakland, the East Bay, and Silicon Valley. # # The city and county of San Francisco could just as easily ally itself with # a buyer's co-op along the same lines. And if current political winds are # any guide, it very well may. # # If we were to take California consumer empowerment to its appropriate # conclusion, it might also involve democratic politics. # # We might tell Gray Davis, his Public Utilities Commission, and his allies # in the Legislature that if they ever again mention using the good faith of # the people of California to back PG&E debt, we'll end their political # careers. # # We might force our government to revisit the promise of the original # electricity deregulation discussion -- the public one, at least -- in # which competition between electricity providers was going to create a # facsimile of markets for other consumer goods. We would force them to # immediately discontinue the ludicrous policy of making PG&E and SoCal # Edison the "default" providers to customers who don't want the hassle of # choosing their electricity provider. States such as Pennsylvania invite # competing electricity providers to bid for these default customers. An # even better choice might be to empower consumers -- make staying with # their existing provider an active choice just as changing providers would # be. As I've said before, having a plethora of green providers, # long-term-contract providers, and providers who offer service based on any # combination of consumer tastes, would create a truly competitive market in # which retail electricity companies aggressively seek out the best # wholesale deals, and wholesale providers become more aggressive in seeking # cheap, efficient new sources of electricity. # # State legislators were unwilling in 1996 to order a real system of # consumer choice -- which would entail a true busting up of the big-three # electricity monopolies. Their failure created the worst statewide calamity # in California history. Gray Davis ignored this imperative in 2001, denying # us the sort of transparent, truly competitive market that would guarantee # an end to such power crises. We've got to stop buying what they're selling # and go shopping for a better brand. # # If we do not do this, we run the risk of allowing our glorious, 150-year # project to fail. # # The heroic settler migrations of the mid 19th century, the foundation of # the state's great public universities that soon followed, Hiram Johnson's # great progressive revolution of 1911 and the flowering of California's # esoteric religious movements of the 1920s -- all these could come to # naught. The promise, under Pat Brown, that our state would have the # greatest infrastructure in the world, and the hope, under his son, that # original, free thinking would allow California to change the planet's # consciousness -- these will become dust. If we don't act, the collapse of # our latest stab at redemption -- the dot-com boom -- and the absurd # humiliation of not being able to turn our own electricity on, will finally # put us exactly where the rednecks and elitists and naysayers always wished # we were. We will metaphorically slide into the sea. Our people, our # customs, our companies, and our government will remain the deserving # brunts of ridicule. # # If we do take control of our consumer destiny, well, anything's possible. # # Consider the musings of another poster on Pud's site. # # "California should raise an army and crush the rest of the godforsaken # country. The fucking South? Please. It's a cesspool of inbreds, cigarette # butts, and pork rinds. The Midwest? I wanna pull my hair out when I hear # that annoying-ass accent. The East Coast? Fuck the East Coast. The East # Coast is for people too paranoid and neurotic to move to the West Coast. # California will rise up and enslave the rest of you like we should have 30 # years ago." # # -------------------------------------------------------------------------- # # Matt Smith ( can be reached at SF Weekly, 185 # Berry, Suite 3800, San Francisco, CA 94107.

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