Rhetorical Manipulation

Analysis’s raggedy old Webster’s gives “the art of effectively using language in speech or writing, including the use of figures of speech” and “the undue use of exaggerated language; bombast” amongst its definitions of “rhetoric”. Couple that with commercial interest and you get slick Madison Avenue marketing. Case in point would be the recently enacted Ohio legislation SB 310 which, according to the Dispatch, John the Governator will enact. Cincinnati Republican State Senator Bill Seitz originally proposed SB 58, ending Ohio’s alternative energy requirements and standards. His rhetoric centered around “the market” and how these standards would cause the utility companies to charge higher rates. Zanesville’s Republican Senator Troy Balderson revamped the elimination idea with a “freeze” of these standards while the efficacy of the standards themselves are researched (effectively the same, but under the guise of a different rhetoric, temporary suspension versus elimination). His rhetoric centered on determining whether customer costs would be more or less with or without the standards. How noble! The liberals and greenies decry this as a Koch brothers and ALEC conspiracy. Given the preponderance of this very same kind of legislation appearing in state legislatures across the country coupled with the President’s initiative to call attention to global warming and tighten coal fired power plant emission controls, there’s some truth in that. But wait, there’s more. Though Ohio is not the heaviest user of coal in generating its electricity, it is up there amongst the top users. Some of that coal is from Ohio mines. Staying with coal is, to say the least, completely conservative (Webster’s first definition is “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc.” Sounds about right). Further “market” rhetoric by conservative legislators is that alternate energy sources (like wind or solar) are currently only possible thanks to state and federal subsidies. Of course the senators elide their own subsidizing shale energy (fracking) with the current tax package that allows the industry to be excused from paying the commercial activities tax. These “elision” fields likewise avoid disclosing that the natural gas produced by this very process, is cheaper than coal to generate electricity. But this just leads to more rhetoric. What about the commercial interest motivating our conservative legislators?

Analysis has a recent AEP bill before it. 15% of this particular bill is attributable to various non-generation, transmission or distribution costs (what it takes to get Sparky from there to here). There is a “Retail Stability Rider”, a “Deferred Asset Phase-in Rider” and a “Phase-in Recovery Rider”. Still unfazed by all the riders? Well, how about the most expensive of the bunch, the “Customer Charge”? Yes, you read that right, a charge just for being a customer. All this thanks to our legislators, John the Governator, and PUCO, though the names have been withheld to protect the guilty. These charges are there because the various utility giants that have control over Ohio can put them there. Enough said. What about those utilities themselves?

6-8-14 Rob Wile for the online Business Insider reports “How Solar Will Destroy The Power Companies, In 5 Easy Steps”. Mr. Wile writes “Barclays recently downgraded the entire U.S. electric utilities sector to “underweight” on the threat posed by widespread adoption of solar-storage.” “The firm’s sweeping case focused in large part on debt markets’ apparent ignorance to challenge utilities are facing.” Wile gives the following five reasons for Barclays move: 1.Solar prices come down (Photovoltaic panels have dropped, and continue to drop in price. OK so much of that is due to subsidy but revisit the riders and customer charges as well as the recent tax package for fracking if you want to embrace that “market” rhetoric. Likewise Tesla has caused the price of storage batteries to continuously drop. Again, look at the legislators’ “laws” to keep Tesla out of Ohio). 2. The defection spiral commences (“Once the prices for everything get cheap enough, homeowners begin to leave the grid.” Duh!) 3. Utilities flail around in their state capitols seeking relief (already happening, dude) 4.The decommissioning process begins (“This is the key moment: Utility companies being forced to upgrade their plants in the face of a declining customer base. That’s a killer combination.”) 5. (this is the one that completely undermines “the market” rhetoric of our conservative legislators) The market turns (“In Germany, aggressive subsidies and a move away from nuclear led to an explosion of renewables expansion. Since the beginning of 2010 (though for reasons that go beyond simply that outgrowth), Germany’s two largest utilities had stock price declines of 55-60%, compared with a near 60% gain in the DAX.”) All this shows that the folks on Wall Street (company John the Governator used to keep when employed by the now belly up Lehman Brothers) know what is coming down. How do they know this?

Academics use a term called “disruptive technology” or “disruptive innovation” to describe what happens when what essentially involved a cumbersome or costly way of doing things is displaced by something, perhaps less comprehensive, but far more accessible and affordable. Case in point would be mobile communication devices (which once were incredibly cumbersome and expensive) and personal computers, now even smart phones. IBM, Hewlett Packard, the old Bell system and others all suffered as a consequence of disruptive innovation/technology (Kodak and Polaroid had to reinvent themselves thanks to digital imaging). Solar is likewise a disruptive innovation/technology. Folks like Seitz, Hottinger, Balderson and other conservatives, “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc.” need to be told the jig is up. The rhetorical manipulations employed by them to insure their own reelection financing is failing (“Customer Charge” indeed!); failing on account of the very market they so ardently invoke as the fountain of all solutions for all problems. In the case of alternate energy, is it the market they are dissing, or is it their responsibility (as elected representatives) to solve problems? SB 310 creates one, solves none.

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