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Public Utilities

Low Energy, High Profits: How Privatizing Public Utilities Left Us All In The Dark

More than a generation after President Ronald Reagan barked at his subordinates, “Don’t just stand there; undo something!” government officials from South Africa to southern California have embarked upon an unprecedented dismantling of the public sector, hiring for-profit enterprises to manage everything from homeless shelters, to toll roads, parking meters, and utilities. While there are no known comprehensive studies, the best available evidence strongly suggests that consumers worldwide have never spent so much of their paycheck to park downtown, or for a liter of water, or a kilowatt of electricity. No demographic has been squeezed more than communities of color, which have borne the brunt of Wall Street’s restructuring of the economy, and its 40-year effort to hollow out the manufacturing industries that Blacks and Latinos have heavily relied on for jobs that pay a decent wage.

Why The Internet Should Be A Public Utility

By Umair Haque for Eudaimonia - Now. Where does this approach — lower prices leading to the greater good — leave America? Well, it leaves it unable to provide utilities well, or genuinely, really, at all. Lower prices are always thought to be provided by competition, hence, instead of utilities being things are provided by a working social contract to everyone, they are deregulated. The invisible hand, it is hoped, will provide them. The problem is that utilities are all natural monopolies: it’s always cheaper for there to be one energy or water or news provider than for a dozen, because laying those lines and pipes costs money. And precisely the same is true for the net: market competition cannot lead to lower prices, because the internet is a natural monopoly, hence, you have at most two choices of providers in most markets, if that. The invisible hand becomes a fist. The result is that Americans don’t really enjoy utilities in the same way as the rest of the world at all: they are fleeced for the basics, by natural monopolies, who never lower prices, only raise them — and eviscerate the quality of what they are supposed to provide. Flint has no clean water. Puerto Rico has no power. California was sent into crisis by manipulated energy “markets”, which weren’t markets at all. America has no BBC or National Health Service, again because “competition will lower prices” — only there is no competition, and prices only rise, while quality falls.

Public Power As A Vehicle Towards Energy Democracy

By Johanna Bozuwa for The Next System Project - “We would line up all of our inhalers in a row on the benches before we would go run, just in case,” recounts Kristen Ethridge; an Indiana resident near some of the most polluting power plants in the country. Asthma rates are so bad from the toxic emissions that many students cannot make it through gym class without their inhalers. Cancer and infant mortality rates in the area are through the roof. These plants are owned by some of the biggest names in the utility business including groups like Duke Energy and AEP. Gibson Power Plant, the worst of them all, emits 2.9 million pounds of toxic compounds and 16.3 million metric tons of greenhouse gases a year. What’s more, most of the energy generated in these plants is transported out of state, leaving Indiana with all the emissions and very little gain. Indiana’s power plants provide a window into how our current electrical system works. It is a system dominated by a small number of large powerful companies, called investor-owned utilities. Their centralized fossil fuel plants are at the heart of our aging electricity grid—a core contributor to rapidly-accelerating climate change. The carbon emissions associated with these power providers are but one symptom of larger systemic issues in the sector. Investor-owned utilities are traditionally profit-oriented corporations whose structures are based on an paradigm of extraction.

Our Best Shot At Meeting Paris Goals? Make Energy Public

By Sarah van Gelder for Yes! Magazine - Mayors across the country have vowed to deliver on the goals of the Paris climate accord in defiance of President Trump’s decision to back out. But how can they, realistically, when the national government is questioning climate science and promoting coal, fracking, and pipelines? Simply put: Make energy public. Instead of privatizing city services, as some policymakers have long advocated, a new report shows that public ownership gives cities and towns the best shot at meeting renewable energy and efficiency targets. “Reclaiming Public Services: How Cities and Citizens are Turning Back Privatization,” a study by the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute, challenges the ideas that governments are ineffective service providers, that private companies are more efficient, and that austerity budgeting and reductions in public service are inevitable. Cities and towns that want well-run water and sanitation services, low-cost access to the internet, and affordable housing should keep those operations public or run by local nonprofits, the report found. If these services are now private, the institute recommends “re-municipalization.” The report is based on research involving 1,600 cities in 45 countries that have chosen public ownership over corporate ownership, especially of their energy and water systems.

Ending Tax Dodging By Utilities Can Prompt Clean Energy Transition

By Sharmini Peries for The Real News Network - We have all known that corporate tax evasion has reached epic proportions, robbing the public treasuries of the ability to address any serious problems we face, such as climate change, largely created by those corporations avoiding taxpaying. In fact, only a few major US corporations pay the required, statutory 35 percent tax rate to the public treasury. A new study done by the Institute for Policy Studies titled "Utilities Pay Up" digs into the gravity of the problem, and it also examines how ending tax subsidies to America's electric utility companies can help fund clean jobs and clean energy transition.

“Solar for All”: How Utilities Can Increase Access To Solar Energy

By John Rogers for USCUSA - A new report looks at what utilities can do to “bring solar within reach” for a broader swath of U.S. households, particularly in lower-income areas and communities of color. The answer: a lot. Solar for All is a product of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), thePartnership for Southern Equity, and the South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development, and is supported by more than a dozen other state and regional organizations.

How To Socialize America’s Energy

By Kate Aronoff for the LEAP Blog. Today’s renewable energy sector, while growing rapidly, hardly offers a roadmap to the transition needed. As billionaires battle over the profits promised by the “clean energy revolution,” experts agree that cobbling together private-sector solutions will not be enough. Neither will the boutique solutions on offer from the left. A more radical approach—one commensurate to the scale of the problem—will require state intervention. Yet traditional forms of public investment remain elusive. Calls for a Green New Deal or wartime-level mobilization against climate change, to use the oft-invoked metaphors (A “Marshall Plan for the Earth,” in Naomi Klein’s version), each take their cues from an economic ideology antithetical to today’s. Instead of direct investment, funding for renewables comes largely via tax credits and market-based incentives for private companies, including the recently extended 30 percent Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar. Public infrastructure spending and job creation programs remain off the table.
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