11. Solar Power Eclipsed by Oil, Gas and Nuclear Interests

Sources: Multinational Monitor, PO Box 19405 Washington, DC 20036, Date: April 1992, Title: "Solar Eclipsed," Author: Julie Gozan; The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, Date: 3/12/92, Title: "Unbind Solar Energy From Washington's Red Tape," Author: James Weinstein

SSU Censored Researcher: Blake Kehler

SYNOPSIS: On November 27, 1991, the California-based solar energy firm Luz International Limited announced that it had filed for bankruptcy. Luz designed, built and operated the world's nine largest Solar Electric Generating Systems (SEGS), which generated 95 percent of the world's solar electricity.

Luz's collapse reflects the problems faced by a solar power industry shackled by hostile government policies and the protection of natural gas and oil interests. While the Department of Energy (DOE) claims to be committed to the development of solar energy, the facts reveal that while the cost of generating solar power has decreased 73 percent from 1980 to 1990, federal research and development (R&D) spending on solar energy has decreased 90 percent.

Presently, the nuclear industry receives more than 70 percent of the DOE's funding outlays for technology-specific development. According to the DOE's R&D budget, the total administration request for nuclear fission and fusion for fiscal 1993 is $13.77 billion, an increase of $100 million from 1992. However, the total request for conservation R&D, renewable energy and state and local conservation, combined, is just $768 million, down $100 million from 1992.

Investigative author Julie Gozan reports that if it weren't for government subsidies, nuclear power would be priced out of the market. Gozan notes that while the cost of solar is down to 8 cents per kilowatt hour, the cost of producing nuclear energy is nearly 13 cents per kilowatt hour.

According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, the next generation of solar plants, which had been planned for construction by Luz in 1994-95, would have brought costs down to 6 to 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour-less than the cost of natural-gas electric generation.

Government obstacles to safer, cleaner energy go beyond fiscal favors for nuclear power and the oil and gas industry. Lawmakers set a cap of 80 megawatts on the amount of energy that a solar plant can generate and sell. Luz, which had the capacity to build SEGS that would generate 200 megawatts, or enough energy to meet the electricity needs of 200,000 homes daily, was forced to build plants below this optimum usage and had to "dump" solar energy rather than use it.

Author Gozan also reports that in order to compete with oil and gas, solar power must somehow match hidden government subsidies given to conventional fuels. Oil and gas receive the equivalent of a 25 percent tax credit. These include an immediate tax write-off for drilling costs and "percentage depletion" for the cost of pipes, pumps and tanks used to complete a well.

As Luz International Chairman Newton Becker observed when the company filed for bankruptcy, Luz's demise was not attributable to technical or economic failure; it was simply the result of our not having a national energy policy. Meanwhile, environmentally sound solutions fall victim to money and politics.

COMMENTS: "In the early Seventies someone said we wouldn't have solar power until the oil companies get a monopoly on the sun. Now it appears that this is happening." That was the lead paragraph to the #9 Censored story synopsis of 1980. It continued, "Within the last five years, a powerful elite of multinational oil companies, aerospace firms, utilities and other large corporations has been quietly buying into the solar industry. The group's aim appears to be to squeeze out smaller competitors and control development so that alternative energy sources will never threaten its massive investments in fossil fuels and nuclear power."

Sources for the 1980 nomination were New West, now defunct, and MotherJones. But that was then and this is now. And while the sources for the #11 Censored story of 1992 have changed, the subject matter hasn't. In fact, the current story bears witness to the prescience of the 1980 nomination. It told how the big boys were buying out the smaller competitors to control the fledgling solar industry; the 1992 story reveals how the big boys finally have forced Luz International Limited, the world's leading solar energy company, out of business.

Investigative author Julie Gozan reported that the plight of the solar industry has received no coverage in the mass media. "Although the Luz bankruptcy was widely reported in newspapers and financial journals," says Gozan, "these contained no analysis of the solar industry and its obstacles." Gozan believes the public would benefit from greater exposure of this issue. "As the public is exposed to the viability of solar energy as a safe, effective and potentially inexpensive source of energy, more pressure will be placed on the federal government to provide equal incentives for the solar and other renewable energy industries with those for nuclear and fossil fuels. As solar becomes competitive and widely available, the U.S. public will be able to access alternatives to non-renewable, polluting and dangerous energy sources.

"The nuclear and fossil fuel industries bank on the current lack of public awareness of solar and other renewable energy technologies. It is in the interest of those industries to suppress information about safe and clean energy alternatives."

Investigative author James Weinstein, whose article on solar energy appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, concurs with Gozan on the lack of coverage given this issue. Solar energy receives "little or no attention," Weinstein states, "or is treated like an exotic or unrealistic alternative, for obvious commercial reasons."

The public would benefit from wider coverage of the solar issue, Weinstein adds, because "it would accelerate the pace of ultimately unavoidable transfer of energy dependence from oil, coal and nuclear to solar and biomass."

Unfortunately, however, the news media have been more than cooperative in the suppression of information that would accelerate that transfer. The nation's leading newspaper, the New York Times, which prides itself for printing "all the news that's fit to print," is known for its support of nuclear power. One of the top 25 Censored stories of 1988, "The New York Times: America's Pro-nuke Newspaper of Record," reported an investigation by EXTRA! that revealed the Times' longstanding pro-nuclear editorial policy.