The next US administration, hopefully under Democratic leadership, will make a big push toward solar energy. But as always the devil will be in the details. Whether or not there will be energy independence from foreign nations will be a function of how they go about it. There are basically two models. The government will subsidize the development and application of solar energy either way. Which model is chosen will determine which direction the US will go in for many years. There will be those who will complain about government subsidization of the solar energy field saying it should be left to private enterprise. But what do you call the $16 billion government subsidies given to the oil companies at a time they are experiencing record profits? It's OK to subsidize large corporations but not OK to subsidize individual citizens? It's OK to subsidize rich farmers and pay them not to grow crops as was enacted again in the recent farm bill?
But there are also big subsidies and tax breaks for farmers. Despite the fact that commodity prices are through the roof, up 126% for wheat, 57% for soy and 47% for corn, which is in just about everything from plastics, sweeteners and ethanol to, well, corn. And yes farmers are still being paid not to farm their land to the tune of about 30 billion a year.
... with less than a couple percent of Americans still working the land, it's not struggling farm families but huge agribusiness firms that till the land and rake in the profits.
And guess what the new farm bill offers them? I mean aside from endless earmarks favoring race horse owners (courtesy of Kentucky's Senator Mitch McConnell) and Western Salmon fisheries?
What it offers them is continuing tax breaks on farm income up to -- unhuh -- $750,000 per farmer. President Bush asked to lower the limit to $200,000 but was ignored. Farmers who make more than $750,000 in farm income who don't want to be taxed have an option - get yourself a wife and your non-taxable income goes to $1.5 million.
Basically the government is subsidizing everyone and everything that can mount a huge lobbying effort in Washington. That means corporate subsidization, but when the little guy complains that he or she can't afford gas, food or health care, the Republican right and their corporate lobbyist shills come forward with their propaganda campaign saying that helping the little people would amount to socialism, and, although corporate socialism is OK (they wouldn't exactly put it in those words), we can't have government subsidizing individuals and families - especially poor and middle class - because that would be socialism of the worst sort - socialism that benefits the people instead of the large corporations.
But I digress. Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or both will have a chance (especially if they have a filibusterproof Senate) to redirect the US away from corporate socialism and towards the empowerment of noncorporate individuals and families. The real issue about solar energy is not whether we'll have it (we will) but who will control it. One model is where government sibsidizes individual homeowners to install solar panels on their homes and property as Germany is doing.
An average German household, for example, can earn over 2,000 euros ($A3,130) a year from subsidies to install solar panels - double their electricity bill - and pay off all costs within 10 years and earn a pure profit for a further 10.
This is a decentralized model in which power generation and distribution is spread over the whole population. One could even say it was democratic power generation or Power to the People! The other model is the one Exxon Mobil and British Petroleum are hankering for: centralized solar power generation and distribution brought to you by the same folks who are now selling you oil. They just want to diversify into other methods, but they want to retain centralized corporate control over US energy needs. They want an energy policy in which energy can be commodified and sold to you in units and priced in such a way that they have control over it. It doesn't matter whether it is solar power or oil generated power so long as they commodify it, meter it, price it and control the distribution of it.
And the absolute worst aspect of centralized corporate control is that solar futures (like oil futures) will be bought and sold on Wall Street and in the London financial district so that speculators can bid up the price of solar energy like they're doing now with oil futures. Hedge funds and other speculators will then control the price of energy like they do now. They don't care what the source of the energy is, only whether it can be commodified, bought and sold and speculated on so they can make their 20% annnual returns to capital at the average person's expense I might add. Where do you think your gas money is going? Now if the government subsidizes individual homeowners to install solar panels, then individual families can generate their one energy both for their homes and for their plug-in electric cars. There will be no middlemen to bid up the price of energy. It will be essentially free once the solar panels are paid for. That's where government subsidization comes in. Instead of corporate profits and speculator profits, there will be a savings to individual families who will be paying essentially nothing for their energy needs. Instead of paying at the pump, paying for heating oil, paying the power and light company, families will be able to diminish their monthly expenses by those amounts. And they may even make money by putting power that they don't need back on the grid like they do in Germany. That would represent a demo- cratic approach to energy generation and distribution as opposed to the corporate approach. If you wanted to make a fine distinction, it wouldn't be socialized energy production because the government would not own the means of production. Individual citizens would. It would be economic democracy and individual empowerment as opposed to government socialism. And it wouldn't be corporate socialism where large corporations, subsidized by the government, owned and controlled the means of energy production. So conservatives how ya going to spin that? How are you going to turn the voters away from decentralized ownership of the means of energy production and convince them that large corporations should own and control it?
The absolute worst aspect of corporate control and commodification of energy is that energy independence will turn out to be a farce. Dependence on foreign oil in a globalized market will turn out to be dependence on oil companies who now generate solar energy that will be owned by the same Arabs and Chinese who now provide oil and from whom we borrow money. In a globalized capitalist system, actual corporate ownership in publicly traded corporations can be anyone, anywhere. It doesn't have to be Americans. And who do you think has the money to invest? So dependence on foreign oil will be replaced with dependence on foreign ownership of solar power production in the American market. That's globalization for you. But the results would be the same whether it's American corporations that own the means of energy production or globalized corporations that own the means of energy production. And why do I think foreigners would still control the means of production if this model were to succeed? Because they own a vast amount of American debt at the present time. They're swimming in dollars. The US has gone from the world's largest creditor nation to the world's largest debtor nation in just a few short years. Financially speaking, the Arabs and the Chinese are in the cat bird's seats. They own American debt big time. They can buy up publicly traded shares in any corporation they choose to including those who provide energy (whether oil or solar) to the American market. So the US will still be in the hands of corporatists, speculators and foreigners if we end up with centralized, corporatized, commodified solar energy.
The Democrats, if they should win the White House and control the Senate, will have a chance to turn this country around by rebuiding infrastructure and putting the nation on the path of decentralized, decorporatized and decommodified energy production that will benefit more or less equally every US citizen instead of enriching corporations and speculators. Non-outsourcable jobs will be created and the cost of living will go down. Instead of pouring money into wars and the largest military-industrial complex in the world, that money could be redirected into more profitable (for the people) pursuits. Instead of trying to bring democracy to the rest of the world, why not try to bring a little democracy here at home? However, control of Congress by lobbyists in order to elicit government largess for corporations needs to be eliminated. There will still be a need for oversight of the energy grid and this is a legitimate government or regulated utility function. There will still be a need for pricing of solar units so that energy can be put out on the grid by individuals and credited to them and vice versa. When enough silicon solar collectors are in place, energy should be virtually free - something that is anathema to the commodifiers. Now free energy to power homes, transportation and businesses. Wouldn't that be something? POWER TO THE PEOPLE!