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Home / Articles / News / Opinion /  Zane's World
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Zane's World

Where the Sun Don't Shine

August 26, 2009, 12:00 am

Capitalism is a miracle. Really. The Vatican should look into it; there are probably certain honors that should be bestowed and formalities that ought to be followed. If the immaculate conception of cash—the transformation of resources that are free and abundant into those that are expensive and exclusive—isn’t a divine wonder, I don’t know what is. I bet someone could figure out how to sell sunshine.

Bottled water is classic example, the one about which we can all chuckle. Water falls from the sky, flows through the ground and comes out of the tap—but give us an opportunity to buy it packaged in plastic from a company that supports a military dictatorship on the other side of the world, and we’ll whip out the wallet. Ha, ha.

Bottled water gives us the illusion of mountain-spring freshness (45 percent of what’s sold in the US comes out of the tap anyway) for an absurd trade: 50 million gallons of oil used annually and a couple of million tons of trash each year. We get islands of plastic waste the size of Texas floating in the ocean. The companies that sell the water earn profits as high as 600 percent. Capitalism is so miraculous, it’s funny. Ha, ha.

Then there’s health care. The top 10 health insurance companies in the US have seen their profits rise 428 percent since 2002. Yet Americans are in the streets demanding the right to continue paying these ever-escalating prices, rather than turning to public—ie, non-capitalist, health care. We are some savvy consumers. It might seem stupid, but that only lends credibility to how miraculous it is.

Another amazing feat of capitalism is its monopolization and profit from the airwaves. In the US, the public proudly owns the airwaves. Congress saw the power of broadcast as a necessary asset of the public way back in 1934 and decreed it be ever thus. As it stands today, though, the few mega corporations that dominate almost all broadcast only have to send a little note to the FCC every eight years in order to assure the government of all the public service that they have been providing. Ha, ha—public service from huge media conglomerates—that’s another capitalist crack-up. The estimated value of the airwaves we, the people, give to these conglomerates each year for free is about a half-trillion dollars. If that’s not God’s work, I guess it would seem kind of creepy.

Public Service Company of New Mexico knows all about good—yet profitable—works and wants to get in on the miracle. In fact, PNM is going into the sunshine business. Solar energy is abundant in New Mexico and PNM wants to help everyone get a little pocket of sunshine. Amen.

PNM wants to add 4,000 megawatts of hot, sun-pumped power to New Mexico’s energy grid. PNM already has approximately 2,300 MW coursing through wires as we speak, so this is a bold increase. Like doubling down at Blackjack. Never mind the state’s estimated capacity of 27,000 MW; some miracles begin modestly.

Most of the solar power for which PNM claims credit is actually generated by its customers—individuals with solar panels on their rooftops who actually sell unused power to PNM. Rather than reinvent the wheel with some kind of big, solar panel installation of its own, PNM proposes to add new power by using more of its customers’ property. PNM will provide the panels, the installation and even a modest leasing fee for customers willing to have solar panels placed on their property. Talk about win-win.

Sure, some heretics, er, solar experts—like the Renewable Energy Industries Association of New Mexico—suggest PNM is making some kind of capitalist power play and that the company’s interests don’t necessarily align with the public good. Don’t these non-believers know that PNM’s slogan is “A personal commitment to New Mexico”? Sheesh.

OK, it is true that homeowners who engage PNM’s new program would not receive tax credits or own the panels or be able to sell power back to the utility company.

It also is true that New Mexico allows municipal solar financing. Municipalities have the right to create special districts in which citizens may finance the purchase of solar power equipment over the long-term via property taxes. Santa Fe doesn’t have a district yet, but city and county staff are working out the details of how to structure one and arrange the financing. Several communities across New Mexico are actually on the verge of initiating solar financing through property tax.

I guess it’s probably just a coincidence that PNM has suddenly launched a program that kind of looks directly aimed at killing homeowner empowerment and keeping customers on its utility leash.

No, it’s more than a coincidence. It’s a miracle.

 

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