OP-ED | Post Irene: Our Love-Hate Relationship With Energy
It’s a refresher course that plays out every 20 years or so.
In the wake of Hurricane Irene, hundreds of thousands of cranky Connecticut ratepayers without power — some for days on end — practically look like they’re ready to storm the Capitol. Or, better yet, the headquarters of Connecticut Light & Power.
An exhausted Gov. Dannel P. Malloy stumbled his way through news conferences with a series of ums and ahs, culminating in a cable TV appearance in which he called Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul “an idiot” for suggesting FEMA be disbanded.
Self-serving politicians huff and puff about holding hearings so that their PR machines can assure John Q. Public that his representative in Hartford is fighting for him.
One municipality at the end of distribution lines on the Rhode Island border was almost 100 percent in the dark until last Friday, a full five days after the storm. Determined to calm nerves and face the music, Malloy visited the “forgotten” town of Sterling, whose weary residents had been using pond and pool water to flush their toilets. Two residents held a sign that read, “No power yet. Can we shower at your house, Gov?” Down the street, a roadside sign said it all: “Day 5. Fix it.”
From a strictly consumerist standpoint, CL&P’s sluggish response did leave a lot to be desired, especially when you consider that we pay the highest electricity rates in the lower 48 states and that Connecticut has spent billions on new energy infrastructure over the last several years. Ironically, the state’s tiny municipally-owned utilities did a quicker job of restoring power than CL&P and United Illuminating, leading me to agree that smaller might be better.
Nevertheless, as the fuming Sterlinians gave the governor a piece of their minds at Town Hall last Sunday, I couldn’t help but wonder how they would have felt years ago if CL&P had engaged in a very aggressive tree-trimming campaign that might have saved Sterling residents the aggravation of having to bathe all week at Plainfield High School. Which brings to mind the refresher course I cited in the first paragraph.
Americans love to consume energy, but we don’t like to be troubled by the risk, pollution or loss of open space associated with energy manufacturing and distribution. To wit, over the years, I don’t know how many letters to the editor I’ve seen in my local weekly newspaper complaining about “poorly trained” CL&P tree service contractors “clear cutting” scenic roads in the name of corporate profits.
And look at the hue and cry earlier this year from Prospect residents and their state Rep. Vickie Nardello at the possibility of only two — yes, 2 — wind turbines in their town. Several years ago, residents between Middletown and Norwalk were aghast when CL&P announced plans to construct 69 miles of high-tension transmission lines. Fairfield County residents were no doubt relieved when the utility agreed to bury the last 24 miles instead of subjecting Gold Coasters to the ugly towers that can be seen in more modest locales such as Meriden and Milford.
To our north, CL&P parent company Northeast Utilities is involved in the so-called Northern Pass initiative that would string major transmission lines from Hydro Quebec’s massive hydro power facilities through New Hampshire and points south where electricity demand is extremely high. Environmental groups and local grassroots organizations have mobilized their forces against the project, which they say will harm tourism, lower property values and spoil the scenic character of the region. And get this: The New Hampshire Sierra Club isn’t even sure whether “large scale hydro is ... a proven carbon neutral or carbon negative source.”
And the NIMBY-ism extends far to our west. Out of concern for aesthetics and possible harm to wildlife, Sen. Diane Feinstein has introduced legislation to prevent solar and wind power development on more than a million ideally-situated acres in California’s Mojave Desert. To which former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger quite sensibly replied, “If we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don’t know where the hell we can put it.”
Americans have some serious thinking to do about energy. We need to do a cost-benefit analysis on how much energy we want to consume vs. what we’re willing to put up with in order to get it. I ask you: does a nation that fights renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydro deserve any energy at all?
Terry Cowgill blogs at terrycowgill.blogspot.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. He is host of Conversations with Terry Cowgill, an hour-long monthly interview program on CATV6 on Comcast’s northwest Connecticut system.