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Local Self-Reliance, Nationally Imposed

Each and every day at least ten unsolicited e-mails arrive in my e-mailbox from persons, politicians, or organizations peddling outlandish schemes to save the world from shadowy demons and other imaginary ghouls.  An e-mail that I just opened from the “Institute for Local Self-Reliance” is pretty typical.  Here it is in full – written to me by one “Nick Stumo-Langer” who, despite our apparently being on a first-name basis with each other, I’m sure that I’ve never met:

Hi Don,

The Democratic Party platform has now officially solidified a commitment to “generating 50% of our electricity from clean energy sources within a decade”, and renewable energy has never had a greater national prominence.

While prices for solar arrays are plummeting and attitudes across the political spectrum are changing in support of renewables, monopoly electric utilities are trying their hardest to undervalue and attack local ownership of clean energy resources.

This is an important discussion for your readers  as they grapple with the topic of renewable energy. I’d love to set up a conversation with you and John Farrell, the director of our Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

“What we’re seeing now is an obvious divide between investor-owned electric utilities trying to defend their profits, while customers are trying to make the best economic decision for themselves,” said John.

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we fight against big utilities that are crushing individuals’ ability to produce their own energy. These monopoly electric utilities develop policies that encroach on rooftop solar by proposing plans that pay their customers less and allow less of an ownership stake.

Please let me know if I can set you up with an interview with John. You can email me at [email protected], or give me a call at 612-844-1330.



I’m especially annoyed by the part in which I’m warned that

big utilities that are crushing individuals’ ability to produce their own energy. These monopoly electric utilities develop policies that encroach on rooftop solar by proposing plans that pay their customers less and allow less of an ownership stake.

I’ve read this passage several times and still cannot decipher it save to determine that it’s meant to make me oh-so-angry at “big” and ‘monopolistic’ utilities.  But, pray, what are “policies that encroach on rooftop solar” – policies that utilities “develop … by proposing plans”?  The policies are said to “encroach” “by proposing plans.”  What does this chaos of words mean?  And for what, precisely, are customers paid less and allowed less of an ownership stake?*

Perhaps the answers are clear and will be revealed to me if I spend a few minutes clicking through this outfit’s website.  But my time is too precious to waste.  If the teaser e-mail cannot be deciphered, why should I believe that the contents of the website are more carefully worded and decipherable?

It’s true, I confess, that my suspicions that this outfit is a source of nothing but nonsense are further raised by the outfit’s name: Institute for Local Self-Reliance.  Anyone who thinks, or even hints at thinking, that human welfare is improved the more “locally” we consume and otherwise conduct our economic affairs knows too little about reality, history, and economics to take seriously.  Such a person is one who mistakes slogans for scholarship and first impressions for full analyses.  Such a person “feels” rather than thinks.  Any organization founded to promote such an “ideal” is one that I want nothing do do with and, more importantly, want it to have nothing to do with me.

Still, out of sick curiosity I clicked on the link.  I found what appears to be this outfit’s mission statement:

The Institute’s mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support environmentally sound and equitable community development. To this end, ILSR works with citizens, activists, policymakers and entrepreneurs to design systems, policies and enterprises that meet local or regional needs; to maximize human, material, natural and financial resources; and to ensure that the benefits of these systems and resources accrue to all local citizens.

I’m amused by the “… accrue to all local citizens.”   Is any citizen not local?  Isn’t each of us, no matter how dependent each of us is (as each of us in the modern world certainly is), a citizen of some locale?  How would the meaning of the above mission statement change if the phrase “local citizens” was replaced by the word “people”?

Oh, oh – yes.  Don’t tell me!  The mission statement is meant to emphasize that the benefits that each person gets will, once this outfit’s policies become the diktats of the land, come not from some distant place but from each person’s locale.  For example, all or most of my “human, material, natural and financial resources” – and the benefits to me therefrom – will come from Fairfax, Virginia, and not from some impersonal, distant place such as Washington, DC.

It would be funny if, contrary to reality, outfits such as this one had no prospect of actually influencing government policies – funny because this outfit pretends to be devoted to localism yet boasts of its support for national policies to make locales more self-reliant.


* I do not doubt that many utility companies use the power of the state to secure for themselves genuine monopoly power and other special privileges.  But the problem with this reality has nothing to do with how ‘local’ or ‘non-renewable’ or ‘carbon-dependent’ or whatever these companies might or might not be.  The problem with this reality is that the state unjustifiably has the power to bestow special privileges on these companies.


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