Thursday, February 21, 2008

Beware the Impending Reign of Big Solar!

Given the hype, I'll admit that I was expecting the Bullock Museum's oil exhibit to be a bit more substantive, but I definitely enjoyed learning about Christmas Trees and Boll Weevils as they apply to the oil industry. What really got me thinking though, was the Walter Cronkite narrated Oil Tank Theatre in a room lined with funky old gas pumps and early/mid 1900s advertisements portraying the oil industry's wonderful services to America. Oil companies are improving your summer driving with NO-NOX fuel (referring to engine knock, but still quite ironic)! Oil companies are helping us win the war (WWII) with new high power fuels! Enjoy your time at the filling station while our attendant helps wash and service your vehicle!

Once upon a time, the oil industry was seen in a very positive light, and that sentiment is clearly reflected in the Bullock Museum's display of the oil industry's influence on Texas's economic growth. Now, however, most people only think of Big Oil and men in business suits around an oak conference table making decisions that squeeze the pockets of the average American while making record profits.

Right now, we typically view wind, solar, and other "green" energy industries as generally benevolent entities working to help us move past our energy crises and into a sustainable world. Yet we've read proposals such as Dr. Makhijani's "Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free" and Scientific American's "Solar Grand Plan" that would inevitably put a great deal of our energy supply in the hands of these now up-and-coming "wholesome" energy industries. Once any energy industry (or industry in general) has a significant level of control over our lifestyles, public opinion is apt to shirt towards negativity. May there be a day when we scoff at Big Solar and shout at Big Compressed Air Storage? Imagine the diner conversation: "Those crooks manipulate our energy prices by turning their valves on and off at will!"

A hint of that sentiment already exists in this article where some homeowners in the Catskills complain that a proposal for wind farms in the mountains "is all about big business making money." Humans don't just want energy, we need it, and while it will become increasingly important to have a diverse energy supply, we will inevitably become relatively dependent on whatever sources are most prevalent. Public opinion is a funny animal, but I guess in the end we always need something to complain about.

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