Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Killing Solar, Killing Us All

SHOW SUMMARY: Who is trying to kill solar power in America? As energy activist Nancy LaPlaca reveals, state-by-state fossil fuels companies are trying to stop competition from safe renewable power. Then we look at developing court evidence in Canada - that fracking for gas and oil IS polluting drinking water. Veteran Canadian investigative journalist Andrew Nikiforuk fills in this key part of the shadows of fracking. We'll wind up with part of my on-going conversation with permaculture guru Albert Bates: why is the worst news more popular than the best solutions? Radio Ecoshock 151111

I'm Alex Smith, welcome to Radio Ecoshock this week.

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In May of 2013, we asked energy activist Nancy LaPlaca why the sun-drenched state of Arizona burned so much coal. That hasn't changed. You can download or listen to that interview here, or read about it in my blog here.

Nancy has moved to North Carolina, where she's helping uncover a national plot by big power companies to slow down solar power in America. She's working with two activist groups: NC Warn (Building people power for climate and energy justice) and Climate Voices, the science speakers network.

Nancy LaPlaca

According to the Washington Post, March 7, 2015, big U.S. utilities are fighting a campaign against rooftop solar power. In the article "Utilities Wage War Against Rooftop Solar" the Post's Joby Warrick wrote:

"If demand for residential solar continued to soar, traditional utilities could soon face serious problems, from 'declining retail sales' and a 'loss of customers” to “potential obsolescence,' according to a presentation prepared for the group. 'Industry must prepare an action plan to address the challenges,' it said."

You can find that document from the industry group "Edison Electric Institute" online, free, here.

Here is an excellent article, "Blocking the Sun" from the group "Environment America". It names names of the industry groups and big energy companies organizing to make it harder or more expensive for Americans to install rooftop solar.

It's happening in Australia too!

What are we talking about? Mega-energy corporations are trying to protect their big investments in dirty power plants, and their virtual monopoly on our energy system. It's a blow against democracy, where you can choose your own clean power.

In some states, big corporate lobby groups, like "Alec" - the American Legislative Exchange Council - "help" states to write laws and regulations that penalize rooftop solar. In some states, they even charge people $50 a month if they install solar and go off-grid! Behind it all, and behind industry groups like the Edison Electric Institute, are a mix of billionaires like the Koch Brothers, and giant energy companies like Duke Energy.

They like polluting coal plants, very expensive nuclear plants, and any kind of fossil fuel generating facility. They've invested billions in these fossils, and can see their market evaporating as people and communities make their own power from the wind and the sun. They know their products will wreck the Earth's climate for all coming generations - but hey! it's the stock price and profits the Quarter that really matter to them! It all reads like "Mr Burns" from the TV show "The Simpsons" when he blocks out the sun, to increase profits for his nuclear plant.

Nancy LaPlaca describes how it all works. One of the almost unknown ploys are the so-called "Public Utility Commissions" that can set rates and regulations. There is nothing public about them, and the public hardly knows these Commissioners exist, even though they make decisions worth many billions of dollars. In most states, Commissioners are not elected, but appointed by the State Governor. Guess who then gets huge contributions to their next campaign?

It's a shadowy operation at best. In North Carolina, for example, meetings of the Public Utility Commission are not available online or by video. You have to physically drive there and attend if you want to know what is going on. Of course, you probably won't be allowed to speak or ask questions. The results are generally already decided, after local big utilities tell them what they want.

Solar is upsetting all that. "Sunlight is the best detergent".

Find Nancy on Facebook here.

Download or listen to (or share!) this interview with Nancy LaPlaca in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


This is Radio Ecoshock, covering what the mainstream media leaves out. We are often ahead of breaking news. On September 30th I interviewed Neela Banerjee from InsideClimate News about their investigation into Exxon/Mobil. That company was warned by their own scientists, starting in the 1970's, that their products would generate dangerous climate change. In the 1990's Exxon funded groups specializing in sowing doubt, or outright denial of climate change. Now two months later the Attorney General of the State of New York is investigating Exxon/Mobil. The state wants to know if the world's largest oil and gas company misled the public and shareholders. You heard it hear first.

Read that show blog "Criminal Activity" here. Or listen to my interview with Neela Banerjee here.


President Obama killed off the Keystone Pipeline project, which hoped to bring dirty Tar Sands oil south to American refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. In his Press Conference on the Keystone decision, President Obama actually spoke these words, which have been a theme on Radio Ecoshock for almost a decade:

"Because ultimately if we are going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable, but uninhabitable in our lifetimes - we are going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground, rather than burn them, and release more dangerous pollution into the sky."

You can watch that full statement (8 minutes) on You tube here.


The Keystone Pipeline decision is another nail in the collapsing Tar Sands projects. But fracking in Western Canada continues at a mad rate, causing Earthquakes, and widespread pollution of water resources. Let's reach out to the best reporter on the case.

Andrew Nikiforuk

Calgary Alberta is the headquarters of Canada's boom and bust oil and gas industry, including the infamous Tar Sands and fracking. It takes guts to live there doing exposes on the damage done. That's what investigative journalist and author Andrew Nikiforuk did for the past 25 years, and he's still at it. His latest book is "Slick Water, Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World’s Most Powerful Industry".

The heroine of this book is Jessica Ernst. She worked on projects for the oil and gas companies for more than a decade. She's in insider who went along with the game - until her home near Rosebud Alberta was surrounded by noisy fracking rigs.

The frackers were after "coal seam methane". There are various types of rocks that can hold bubbles of methane (known as "natural gas"). The coal seams are very fragile rock, and tend to be closer to the surface. That makes them difficult and dangerous to frack - but profitable too. Jessica was getting all kinds of complaints from ranchers that their water was now laced with methane. Her own well was polluted.

The fracking companies, and then the Province of Alberta, tried to claim methane in their water was always there. Except she had solid proof it wasn't. Using her skills, Jessica thought the Province would act to protect drinking water. In fact, the government just did a phony "investigation" and white-washed the whole thing. So she sued the government and the fracking companies.

The government's defence was that they are not responsible for protecting drinking water - even though they issue the permits to polluters!

Usually, where there is solid proof of groundwater pollution by fracking, the companies want to settle with a cheque. That stops the lawsuit, and includes a confidentiality agreement that hides all the facts. The victims are not allowed to talk about the settlement or the pollution. A lot of damage from fracking has been hidden from the public records in this way.

But not Jessica. She's continued a ten year suit against the companies, mostly paid for out of the last of her savings. She is determined to get this fracking pollution into the court records, and keep it all public.

That's very brave. Other local farmers wanted her to settle because they got money for the use of their property. At one point, secret police - from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police terrorism squad, arrived at Jessica's house. They were told she was a terrorist. They demanded the names of all the ranchers who had complained. Of course she refused, and hosted the plain clothes cops on her porch, in metal chairs, in the Alberta winter. They went away empty handed, after apologizing. So who sent them?

I think that anyone faced with fracking, anywhere in the world, should check out this case and Andrew's book. He's a great writer, with super investigative skills. The facts apply in Australia, the United States, Europe - wherever there is fracking. I'm glad to help Andrew and Jessica get this on the record on Radio Ecoshock.

I've followed Andrew Nikiforuk's writing on the energy industry for years. You can find his other great stuff on his web site here. For example, his previous book is intriguing: "The Energy of Slaves, Oil and the New Servitude." His articles are published by mainstream Canadian media, but also by most of the alternative press.

Download or listen to this interview with Andrew Nikiforuk in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

As always, you can download or forward these interviews, as separate mp3 files, using links in this show blog.


I've had an on-going discussion about solutions with Albert Bates. Regular listeners heard his talk and interviews at the recent Permaculture Convergence in London. Here is an excerpt from another talk with Albert, where I ask him about the mystery of our longing for news of the collapse, and the real meaning of a permanent culture.

I ask Albert to help me with a problem. If I do a Radio Ecoshock show covering how bad things are, we get twice the downloads of a program with positive solutions like permaculture. Why is that?

Bates says most people know, in their heart-of-hearts, that our fragile complex civilization is not sustainable, for a number of reasons. They expect it could, or will, collapse. So when a Radio Ecoshock program has experts pin-pointing those tipping points, and the big-picture risks, it actually helps listeners to formulate what they know for themselves. It's kind of a relief to know it's not just you worrying about the future. I love that Bates doesn't sugar coat it.

I think part of the difficulty is people can't grasp what permaculture is. It's hard. Albert teaches this subject in workshops around the world. What the heck is permaculture? His explanation is clear, I think.

I ask myself, if we want a permanent culture, rather than a crisis-to-crisis throwaway civilization, what would it look like? How could we live decently for a thousand years? For me, that's what permaculture is.

Lately I'm hearing of permaculture economics, maybe permaculture psychology. Can the definition of permaculture grow so large that it's core gets lost?

Albert says "no". In fact, the Australian originators of permaculture soon realized this needs more than a different kind of agriculture, or even food systems. The root of many problems is in our society, and we need "social" permaculture as well, and economics that don't endanger the planet or the future.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks, for more of my discussion with Albert Bates, former environmental lawyer turned permaculture teacher, at the intentional community "The Farm" in Tennessee. Keep up with Albert at his blog "The Great Change".


Next week, I'm scheming to bring you a devastating report on the lies we tell ourselves about climate change, as world leaders prepare for the Paris climate talks. It's harsh news that need to be told.

I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for being brave enough to listen, and for caring about our world. Please don't forget to help me keep going!

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