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The Power of Fossil

by Elmar Altvater Friday, Dec. 28, 2007 at 2:05 PM

A redirection toward regenerative sources of energy is our ownly option. A conversion of energy production and a change of our way of life are indispensable. Energy autonomy is only possible with smaller units and democratic procedures of self-determined energy policy.


Hegemony. The energy monopolies do not give a damn about protecting the atmosphere

By Elmar Altvater

[This article published in: Freitag 48, 11/30/2007 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

Without fossil fuels, we would freeze and could not drive cars. The lights would go out if the electricity were turned off. Prosperity and well-being depend on a smoothly functioning energy supply, we read in publications of the mammoth electricity suppliers E.on, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall. These suppliers have a strong position that showers them with billions in profits as a reward, so to speak, for the comforts and amenities they bring consumers as fossil energy providers. They have divided up the electricity supply regionally so each conglomerate has a territorial monopoly. They are the masters of the network. Since 2000, the big four have raised the gas price 76 percent and the electricity price 46 percent. On average, households will have to pay 200 more euros in 2007 than in 2006 because the conglomerates do not want to lose the hefty profits in the future. Part of the profits comes from the emissions trade… Politics has blown these so-called windfall profits into the treasuries of the conglomerates.

The energy supply is complex because primary fossil energy in Germany comes from many world regions, particularly from Russia (43 percent), OPEC-countries (21) and our North Sea neighbors (31). The logistic chains are vulnerable. Energy security has a high priority in foreign- and domestic policy. However there is actually no regulation of the energy market in Germany and Europe that considers the interests of consumers.

The profit greed of the fossil monopolists has called the EU-commission into action. The commission repeats its neoliberal mantra. More competition is necessary. This could be achieved by separating production and distribution of energy. The electricity network of energy suppliers should be sold to other businesses. The German regional economic ministers recently approved this. “If necessary,” monopolist energy conglomerates must be “shattered.” As Hesse’ economic minister Rhiel said, the “public interest” has precedence before the monopolistic profit interests of conglomerates. Articles 14 and 15 of the German constitution speak of the social obligation of property.

If production and the network are separated, the networks could be de-privatized, communalized or nationalized and not transferred to other private properties. It is naïve to expect more competition and lower energy prices when the big electricity suppliers control four-fifths of the market. This is also true for gas and petroleum.

The privatization of the energy supply has brought spectacular profits. The conglomerates have also long determined energy policy. They already mix “regenerative” agro-sprit from bio-mass to gasoline. However the technical and economic structures remain unchanged as well as the distribution of power. The fixed capital invested in the past must be exploited in the interest of private investors in the future, in zero-costs as with the nuclear power plants of which some have already been written off a hundred percent. Corporate executives cannot do what they must do for ecological reasons in this self-produced “cage” of total dependence.

Thus the energy conglomerates in Germany press for new nuclear power plants and up to 26 new coal power plants including some fueled with brown coal contrary to all climate goals. Only those who do not give a damn about protecting the atmosphere can justify this while promising new techniques of storing CO2 in the earth.

We know that the fossil sources of energy are drawing to an end (peak oil). The price explosion in crude oil and natural gas is an unfailing sign for a massive shortage given a demand that grows unrestrainedly. We know about the climate catastrophe that US Secretary General Ban Ki Moon seconded by the UN Climate Conference painted as a horror scenario in November 2007. We also know that a redirection toward regenerative sources of energy is our only option. A conversion of energy production and a change of our way of life are indispensable. The energy monopolists hinder the necessary adjustments. “Energy autonomy” (Hermann Scheer) is only possible with smaller units and democratic procedures of self-determined energy policy.

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