Recession Means Unemployment

Friday, 12 Dec 2008 12:03 PM

By Ralph Hostetter

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The recession has arrived. Some say it arrived in August of 2007.

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

Public works projects such as highway bridges are being bandied about as ways to stimulate jobs.

Few remember the days of the Great Depression when Public Works Projects were created.

One such project was the Works Progress Administration or WPA. Before long a caricature in cartoons was invented. It was a man leaning on a shovel and the new meaning of WPA became "we poke along."

The program lacked proper supervision. The one project that proved successful was the CCC or Civilian Conservation Corps.

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

Visitors to Yellowstone marvel at the Grand Lodge and the beautifully developed Visitor Centers at other national parks.

One other credit to the CCC was organization military-like approach: Participants dressed in uniforms and were subject to military discipline. Many went directly into military service at the beginning of World War II, receiving immediate promotions as non-commisioned officers.

In the mid-1960s, a less successful organization was formed known as the "Jobs Corps." The Jobs Corps was begun as the central program of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty," part of the president's domestic agenda known as the Great Society.

Its purpose was to attract eligible young people, teach them the skills they need to become employable and independent, and place them in meaningful jobs or further education.

Like so many programs planned and activated in the war on poverty, the Jobs Corps was not recognized as a great success of the Great Society.

Most of the failures of previous programs designed to provide mass employment was the fact there seemed to be no central purpose. There can be a central purpose developed today for the use of the trillion-dollar bailout fund now languishing on the sidelines.

That purpose could be the repair and upgrading of America's electrical power distribution system, which at present needs serious attention.

Although the system is functioning much better since America's biggest blackout in history on Aug. 14, 2003, there are still weaknesses that appear during peak loads, particularly during extremely hot weather. For these, California stands out in particular with its summer "brown outs."

At present, according to the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Relationship, there are more than 3,100 electric utilities in the nation.

Control of these utilities cover a spectrum of ownership and management. Stockholder-owned utilities account for 213 of the total and produce 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 for 15 percent of the customers. The balance of some 12 percent of electricity consumers are served by 930 cooperatives.

About 10,000 individual power plants are operated by the nation's utility companies.

Presently, some $1 trillion is lying idle awaiting designation for a useful cause. Questions are being raised as to whether or not it should be used as a bailout for the auto industry. A trillion dollar bailout has already been provided for the financial industry of America.

What better use for this $1 trillion than a central project to provide employment for possibly hundreds of thousands for the revamping and upgrading of the entire electrical transmission and distribution system in the country?

Collateral employment could extend to all the manufacturers of equipment and materials needed for the necessary upgrade of the systems.

The U.S. Department of Energy points out that "because of the expected near-term retirement of many aging plants in the existing fleet, growth of the information economy, economic growth and the forecasted growth of electricity demand, America faces a significant need for new power generation . . . It is an enormous challenge that will require a large commitment of technological, financial, and human resources in the years ahead . . .

"Power outages and power quality disturbances at present cost the economy from $25 billion to $180 billion annually."

The U.S. Department of Energy report concludes that the North American 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 in the present day studies will be 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, for example, the principal wind corridors with winds in Class 5.

In the Great Plains area, one of the nation's primary regions for Class 5 wind force is located 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 will be true of the desert regions of New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California where the radiant energy of the sun will be collected over many square miles.

The populations in these areas is for the most part nonexistent and the energy will have to be transported to more populated sections of the region.

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