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Oil Industry Uses PBS Nova to Scare Voters About the "Risk" of Clean Energy

For somebody old enough to remember PBS before “fair and balanced” news, last night was a shock.

“Energy: the Big Gamble” on PBS Nova contained blatant lies about the pending climate legislation in California. Funding for NOVA is provided by ExxonMobil, Pacific Life, David H. Koch… This is the same Koch family, that makes its billions off oil and gas, that Greenpeace found had spent $25 million from 2005 to 2008 funding  climate denial. This show was designed to scare US voters, and initially, California voters who now face the oil industry’s ballot initiative to put a stop to pending climate legislation, AB32 to move the state to a clean energy economy.


The message of the NOVA piece is that moving to a clean energy economy is just too risky. To drive the message into our subconscious, the show itself is called “Energy: The Big Gamble” and each time the narrator intones on the terrors of climate legislation, dice are shown being rolled (by uncaring hands) to show you just what a risk is being taken with your life. Tremble, Californians!  Some unseen gambler is messing with your livelihood.

Two segments contained particularly self-serving lies for the oil and gas industry now battling the climate legislation in California. In one segment about all the problems they claim will come with clean energy, they actually insinuate that California has blackouts – supposedly because we have too much renewable energy!

NARRATOR: But that is not the only problem. Coal can be burnt to release energy when you need it, but what do you do if the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow?

DANIEL KAMMEN: Renewables aren’t the easy we’re-just-going-to-do-it solution. There are issues. One of the big issues is that for solar and wind, in particular, they are intermittent. They’re on some of the time, off other times, and it’s not consistent. You cannot always predict it.

NARRATOR: (almost whining) But grid managers have to predict it. They need power on demand. And when they can’t get it, it raises one alarming specter.

REPORTER 1: Minutes after the power went out in Aliso Viejo there was the sound of screeching tires and crumpled cars.

NARRATOR: With an aging grid and a shortage of reserve power, blackouts have plagued California for years.

REPORTER 2: We’re talking 10, 20, 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles, possibly, with people without power.

PHARMACIST: We cannot get on our computer. We cannot process prescriptions. We cannot call doctors for refills.

NARRATOR: To eliminate the risk of blackouts, as renewable energy increases beyond 20 percent, it will be necessary to come up with a cost-effective technology to store power.

Actually, the last time that California had blackouts was during the Enron extortion in 2000-2001. That was not because we had some “excessive” amount of renewable energy. It was found by FERC to be due to purely financial market manipulation by Enron.

In another segment they imply that AB32 will raise your energy prices by 25% (again, not true), driving you and your small business out of state.

NARRATOR: But there has been no gold rush for Jim and Myra Malkiewicz. Their family has been in the mattress business for decades, but with the increasing costs of materials, times are very tough.

JIM MALKIEWICZ (Wickline Bedding Company): My father’s been in the business for 50 years. He’s never seen it this difficult. And margins are shrinking: the cost of fuel is going up, the cost of foam is going up. In just a seven-month period we’ve had four price increases on polyurethane foam—which we use, obviously, a lot in our mattresses—totaling 60 percent, 60 percent. That’s just one component. It’s gone across the board.

NARRATOR: The vicious pincer of higher costs at a time of recession has devastated their profit margins. They’re down to just three percent. For Jim and Myra and their 60 employees, the prospect of a large hike in electricity rates is terrifying.

JIM MALKIEWICZ: Let’s add these costs up: let’s say we’re spending $4,000 a month on energy; that’s $50,000 a year. Let’s say we go up by $1,000 a month. That’s an additional $12,000 that you’re spending that comes out of the bottom line. Well, in some cases, that’s somebody’s employment. The question becomes, “Can you survive these bad credit markets, the tight money? Can you survive the bigger costs in gas, fuel, electricity?

Electricity prices are not going to go up 25%! And their 60% rise in polyurethane costs has nothing to do with the “risky gamble'” on climate legislation – that won’t even take effect till 2012, (and will cover utilities’ raw materials, not those of mattress makers).

(In fact, a California business with good enough credit to be in business (and a roof) that wants to lower its energy costs can access clean power purchase agreements (PPAs) with companies that offer ways to save money from day one on electricity using solar.

Businesses that have put in energy efficiency or renewable energy find that they save money by adding renewable energy or efficiency. Any business can access Federal and state incentives under The Recovery Act and state and utility rebates that make clean energy production feasible for businesses.)

Don’t be taken in by this self-serving scaremongering by the fossil industry, masquerading as quality television. For shame, PBS.

Image: Mike Jackson’s Hollywood Disaster movie

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Written By

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.


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