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Recession: What to do?

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E. Ralph Hostetter


The recession is here.

Some say it arrived in August 2007.

All admit that it is causing job losses by the tens of thousands weekly.

Suggestions range from public works projects, particularly highway bridges, to other areas of the nation’s infrastructure.

Few remember the days of the Great Depression, when many public works projects were created. One such project was the Works Progress Administration or WPA.

Before long a caricature was invented for cartoons.

It was a man leaning on a shovel.

The new meaning of WPA became, "We poke along."

The program lacked proper supervision.

The one project that proved successful was the Civilian Conservation Corps or "CCC."

The nation’s wonderful state and national parks are a tribute to the CCC.

In Wyoming’s Yellowstone Park, for example, the CCC built the majority of the early visitor centers, campgrounds and roads.

One other major benefit to the country of the CCC was the fact that this organization was created along military lines.

Participants wore uniforms and were subject to military-style discipline.

Many participants went directly into military service at the beginning of World War II, receiving immediate promotions as non-commissioned officers upon enlistment.

In 1964, a less successful organization was formed, known as the Jobs Corps.

The Jobs Corps was begun as the central program of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.

Its purpose was to attract energetic and committed young people, teach them new skills, and to then place them in meaningful jobs or further their education.

Like so many programs planned and activated in the war on poverty, the Jobs Corps was not a great success. It still exists, however.

The failure of many programs subsequent to the CCC was due to the fact they seemed to have no real central purpose.

Programs with a strong central purpose can be developed today using the balance of the $700 billion bailout fund now languishing on the sidelines.

The remainder of the bailout fund could be used for the repair and upgrading of America’s electrical power distribution system.

It needs serious attention.

This use could benefit all Americans.

Although the system is working much better since the biggest blackout in American history, Aug. 14, 2003, there remain weaknesses during peak loads, particularly in extremely hot weather.

According to the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Relationship, there are more than 3,100 electric utilities in the nation. Control of these utilities covers the spectrum of ownership and management.

Stockholder-owned utilities account for 213 of the total and serve 73 percent of the country’s customers.

Utilities run by state and local governments account for 2,000 of the electric companies and provide service to 15 percent of the customers.

The balance of electricity customers are served by 930 cooperatives.

About 10,000 power plants are operated by the utility companies.

The nation’s power transmission grid is only as strong as its weakest link.

For what better use could the balance of the bailout fund be designated than a project that would provide employment for thousands in addition to the upgrading of the entire electrical transmission and distribution system?

The Department of Energy points out that "because of the expected near-term retirement of many aging power plants, growth of the information economy, economic growth and the forecasted growth of electricity demand, America faces a significant need for new power generation."

The report concludes: "In summary, the North American world-class electric system is facing several serious challenges.

"Major questions exist about its ability to continue providing citizens and businesses with relatively clean, reliable and affordable energy services.

"The recent downturn in the economy masks areas of grid congestion in numerous locations across America.

"These bottlenecks could interfere with regional economic development.

"Unless substantial amounts of capital are invested over the next several decades in new generation, transmission and distribution facilities, service quality will degrade and costs will go up."

Apparently overlooked is the necessity of bringing alternate energy production generation to market.

Wind energy, for example, will be developed in the areas where wind corridors exist.

These corridors are not necessarily located conveniently in areas bordering on large population centers. The principal wind corridors are located in the Great Plains area, over elevated regions of North Dakota and the High Plains of northwestern Montana.

These sections of the nation are not large population centers and therefore will require fairly long transmission lines to bring the power to larger populated areas.

The same situation will be found in the desert regions of southwest New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California, where the radiant energy of the sun will be collected over many square miles.

The population in many of these areas is sparse and the energy will need to be transported to the more populated sections of the region.

Upgrading the nation’s power transmission grid could save from $25 billion to $180 billion which are annually lost in power outages.

E. Ralph Hostetter, a prominent businessman and publisher, also is an award-winning columnist and Vice Chairman of the Free Congress Foundation Board of Directors. He welcomes e-mail comments at eralphhostetter@yahoo.com.

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