The “Invisible” Shift

I recently saw this article that fact checks a segment that apparently ran on CBS’s 60 Minutes in December titled “The Clean Tech Crash.”  I do not have a subscription to satellite TV, cable companies refuse to serve me and I don’t get broadcast TV in my holler.  I can see the miniscule amount of TV that interests me on the Internet or DVD.  So I didn’t watch the original show.

I am not really interested in rebutting 60 Minutes.  I am interested in how and why a network like CBS would be interested in proclaiming some kind of end to renewable power.  And beyond that, why CBS is now competing with its main competitor, Fox News, to generate silly claims about government skulldugery concerning renewable power.

First, let’s look at the relationship between the TV industry and the electric power industry.  AEP’s Web site has this post which claims that the average household in the US owns almost 3 television sets.  Those TVs are getting larger and larger and consume more and more electricity.  A 50″ plasma TV burns 400 watts.  If that TV runs 8 hours per day, that is 3.2 kwh per day, or almost 100 kwh per month.  The DoE has a good explanation of the impacts of these trends on energy consumption.

So the interests of the TV broadcasting companies are deeply tied to increasing the amount of TV people in the US watch, because their advertising revenue depends on eyes on the screen.  More TV means more electricity consumption.  So, guess what, TV broadcasters are the natural allies of the large electricity holding companies that control the US electrical system.  CBS has moved through a number of buyouts and realignments over the years, but it was owned until the 1990s by Westinghouse, a major electrical giant in the US.  And NBC is owned by General Electric, a major player in the US electrical hardware industry.

It should surprise no one that CBS is trying to proclaim the death of renewable power following the Edison Electric Institute’s declaration of a strategy to strangle solar power in particular before it can destroy any more of the reigning centralized electric industry business model.

Broadcast TV has always been about mass advertising.  Content is always secondary.  The basic behavioral conditioning techniques of mass advertising have now completely taken over what networks claim is news reporting.  Fox started with the “Solyndra” mantra that sought to trigger the viewer response: solar power can only survive with subsidies, no other electrical generation receives subsidies and is solely market driven, the Obama administration is trying to destroy the economy with its hidden “green” agenda.  CBS, for its part, echoes the Solyndra gambit, but goes further to proclaim the “greentech crash.”

But it’s not.  Grid scale solar capacity is now a major component of all new generating capacity being built in the US.  Small scale residential solar capacity installation continues to explode.  A total of over a gigawatt of solar capacity of all kinds was added in the third quarter of 2013 alone.

TV World is not interested in facts, however.  Broadcasters sell advertising to a segment of the population that is already programmed to buy more and larger TVs.  This market segment welcomes the constant message that electricity will always be there when they buy another TV or video game.  This market segment isn’t focused on scaling back their viewing or TV watching because it wastes valuable national resources, or because it destroys much of southern WV (or poisons the water supply of the state capital).  These people are certainly not the active, innovative citizens who are out there in the real world transforming the US electrical system.

So there is no surprise here that 60 Minutes is bent on proclaiming renewable power “over” like last year’s toothpaste.  Just because the transformation of the US electrical system is invisible to the US media, does not mean it isn’t happening.  Just ask the holding companies that run the Edison Electric Institute.

3 thoughts on “The “Invisible” Shift

  1. Great post as always Bill and you can usually find the answers to almost any controversy by “following the money” as you have done here. I was disappointed at best when I heard of the story broadcast by what I normally consider a viable news source. 60 minutes has always been the final word on almost any controversial story and has done so for as long as I can remember. I want to say that not only am I disappointed in this segment but I will NO LONGER watch the show until a full apology, broadcast on air in prime time, is given. There were many postings on the show in social media, all of them in hearty disagreement and outrage. The only folks who were not posting were the silent majority of folks who live under a rock, watch Fox news, and buy three flat screen TV’s as a matter of normal household business. These are also the folks who routinely pay very high utility bills and wonder why they use so much electricity and why it costs so much. I wish these folks would do more research on how and why they live a such a wasteful lifestyle and how they can get ahead of it with energy efficiency and renewable energy. Fact is, they probably never will.

  2. They will when they’re forced to because either the price of grid electricity rises out of sight, or they lose their income. But then they will not be able to afford even a minimal independent electric system. 3.2 kwh/day for one TV!! That’s more than we use for our whole house, and all for a device that’s eating their brains!

  3. I watched the segment and I didn’t get the message that renewable electric generation is dead. Perhaps it unfairly showcased some spectacular taxpayer-funded failures (now owned by the Chinese), however it looks like the biggest critics are the usual renewable cheerleaders who have made us think that any “green” is good green, and that’s not necessarily the case.

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