My last posting on this blog elicited a strong reaction in one of the LinkedIn groups where I typically post discussion topics relating to my blog entries. Initially, the response was relatively civil but clearly opposed to the central premise in that posting; that there is a role for both state and federal government to play in creating the regulatory and legislative environment in which new industries such as those working on green technology can compete effectively against more entrenched interests and ultimately thrive, producing jobs and wealth within the society. However, it quickly turned into a rant about cap-and-trade, the size of government, the role of China in the world economy, the moral superiority of the US over all other nations, the current administration’s “socialist” policies and various other lightening rods of right wing opinion. After battling to bring the discussion back to its original premise for about a week, I gave up, stopped following my own discussion and moved on. In my absence, the discussion grew to over 100 posts and continues to receive multiple new posts per day. The tone of the debate has become significantly more ugly with several additional people joining in, not necessarily to support my original position but to attack my attackers. In the process, the topic of discussion has veered even further off course to include;
- Whether Barack Obama or George W Bush took more vacations as President
- Whether Barack Obama is a Muslim
- Whether Barack Obama was born in the US
- Whether the original respondent to my posting has the right to express his views on a LinkedIn discussion forum
Observing this does not give me any sense of personal vindication or comfort. I feel that the entire message that I was trying to communicate has been lost in the heat of a debate that has nothing to do with my original posting and even less to do with reality.
I say this by way of a preface to inviting readers to check out an article in today’s Intelligent Utility Daily which uncovers the trail behind some of the opposition to Smart Grid and green technology in general. As the article notes, there are legitimate reasons for people to be opposed to the current efforts by Xcel energy to push off the cost overruns in their Boulder CO, Smart Grid City project onto ratepayers. There are similar grounds for concern about the actions of some other utilities around the country who have either demonstrated a lack of attention to consumer issues, as in the case of PG&E in California, or who have inappropriately tried to push all of the risk associated with Smart Grid deployment onto consumers, as in the case of BG&E in Maryland. However, we need to be aware of the sources of funding behind some of the “grassroots” organizations that rise up to oppose these initiatives and be careful to discern where their agendas align with our own and where they begin to diverge significantly. As my experience with the LinkedIn forum demonstrated, there are those who will begin by raising legitimate concerns but whose real agenda is simply to oppose and obfuscate anything that does not align with their personal ideology which may be based, not on the common good but on a narrow and self-serving interest.
As my earlier posting attempted to point out, there is a valid role for government to play in creating the conditions in which new technologies can come to market. In large part this involves making sure that the existing regulations and market conditions that have been created to favor the incumbent technologies and service providers do not unfairly mitigate against new entrants that were not envisioned at the time those regulations were created. This is an area that requires nuanced debate and objective policy making that seeks to place the best interests of society above those of narrowly defined special interests within either the entrenched industries or those that are seeking to replace them. What passes for debate in the LinkedIn thread that I refer to above is symptomatic of much of our society today and it does not provide for the kind of nuance and objectivity that is required. Instead, absolute positions are staked out and reinforced by like-minded individuals while those with differing opinions are demonized and discounted as crazy, untruthful and, more often than not, unpatriotic.
Last night, I attended a meetup event in Chicago to promote GE’s ecomagination challenge. At that event, Bob Gilligan, VP of GE Digital Energy quoted statistics that illustrate a key point about the supply and demand of energy in the world. The average US consumer uses 12,000 KWh of electricity per year. In Europe, the figure is 9,000 KWh and in Japan, 6,000 KWh. In China and India, large portions of the population have no access to electricity at all and the average consumption is just 1,000 KWh. As important as it is for the US to reduce energy consumption, the bigger issue is the growth of energy demand in China, India and other developing nations as they seek to grow and modernize their economies for the good of their populations. We need to ensure that people in these countries can have access to affordable energy without accelerating the destruction of our environment through additional mining, pollution and accidents similar to the recent gulf oil spill or the 2008 TVA coal slag collapse. Newsweek recently ran an article highlighting the fact that in Nigeria, oil spills are a weekly occurrence and the cleanup efforts are minimal but we typically don’t even hear about such issues because they are half a world away. This is a global problem that requires global solutions. If the US wishes to be a leader in the emerging technologies that will be needed to solve this problem, we need a cohesive, long-range national energy plan that makes Smart Grid and clean renewable energy a priority at home first. Only then will we be able to develop the technologies that can be exported to other countries to help them meet the challenge of sustainable access to the energy that will transform their societies and help to lift their people and their economies out of poverty.