Thursday, July 26, 2012

One Guam, Green Guam, Glow Guam

Nuclear power generation on Guam must be opposed with all heart and soul.

For sure, energy prices are high on Guam but that’s because the island is excessively reliant on fossil fuels. It should turn its attention, instead, to alternative sources. This is not a knee-jerk response to the obvious risks that nuclear power brings.

After Katrina hit New Orleans, architects and builders began to imagine a different city, one that’s less dependent on fossil fuels.  New Orleans is a good city to compare to Guam.

New Orleans is ecologically fragile. Although it is part of the continental U.S., it is nonetheless separate, below sea level and uniquely vulnerable to storms. Similar to Guam, New Orleans is also culturally rich, diverse, with a modest economy and wage levels.
Since Katrina, there has been a concerted effort to build homes that use energy efficient technologies; to create housing that registers net-zero, or low energy consumption. They have been successful at doing this.

One effort by Brad Pitt, the actor, led to the Make it Right foundation, which builds highly energy efficient homes for as little as $150,000. They use solar and other energy saving technologies to dramatically reduce power usage.

Homes that have solar technologies have reverse electric meters. There are points in the day when the solar systems produce more energy than is being consumed, and this excess energy is sold to the power company. Some of these meters will literally show the amount of money that you are making.

Nuclear energy will not deliver a Green Guam. It will deliver a new set of hazards to Guam.

The recent decision by the Consolidated Commission on Utilities to even consider the feasibility of nuclear power for the island is a colossal mistake. It is astonishing that one of the most solar rich places on the planet would even consider such a move.

Let’s look at this as an economic issue alone. One estimate puts the cost of a nuclear facility at about $250 million.  With that amount of money, you could provide $10,000 grants to 25,000 homes and businesses on Guam to install solar panels.

This is really about where Guam wants to invest its energy dollars. A $250 million investment to build a nuclear power plant equals about $1,400 for every man, woman and child on Guam. One way or another, the bill for nuclear power will get paid.

The Utilities Commission can’t simply look at nuclear power in isolation, detached from alternatives. It needs to consider, as well, the rapidly improving efficiency and declining cost of solar and what an equal investment into solar might produce.

Here are some other issues to consider as well.

One: A nuclear plant will concentrate investment and jobs. Solar energy has the potential of disaggregating the island's energy production and creating new employment opportunity for people, locally trained, to install and maintain solar energy systems. Green energy is self-reliant and represents, at the very least, symbolic decolonization. 

Two: A nuclear facility will require land and ample security. The needs of the military shooting range may be modest by comparison.

Three: A nuclear facility generates hazardous waste that remains hazardous for tens of thousands of years. It will have to be transported and stored somewhere. 
Four: The risks associated with nuclear generation are not zero. Guam doesn’t need to increase the risk the government is already creating by its expanding military presence. Remember, the U.S. has given serious consideration to the need for a missile defense system for Guam. Does Guam want a missile defense system and a nuclear power plant?

Five: Guam may be an unsafe environment for nuclear energy. It is seismically unstable. It is subject to massive typhoons.

The Utilities Commission should drop its investigation into the feasibility of nuclear power. It has to be opposed now, not later.

Once this feasibility study delivers its predictable conclusions, the lobbying will begin in earnest and the opposition to nuclear power will face increasing odds, not unlike the build-up.  By the time the build-up’s environmental impact statements arrived, it was already too late.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

The status of Guam’s war reparations

It's time for Guam's political leadership to be frank about the status of war reparations. The $100 million being sought has an absolutely less than zero chance of being approved by Congress.

U.S. Rep. Madeleine Bordallo recently announced that her latest attempt to advance this issue has failed.

Supporters of reparations have a compelling case to make. The stories of what happened during the war are terrible and heartbreaking. The U.S. was too quick to settle with Japan. The needs of Guam weren't properly accounted for. But the politics of the issue in Washington are too impossible.

The continuing pursuit of reparations, at this point, is just political theater. Congress is not going to fund war reparations as it cuts programs for the poor, the medically uninsured, and others in desperate need.

Guam's political leadership needs to ask whether continuing pursuit of war reparations is becoming a political liability to other legislative efforts in Washington.

A better strategy may be for the island's political leadership to see if they can use to failure of war reparations as leverage on other issues. It may help them bolster the case to improve education and infrastructure on the island.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Guam as a ‘strategic hub’

Takeaways from the “Joint Statement of the Security Consultative Committee."

“In view of the increasingly uncertain security environment in the Asia-Pacific region … 

“... the U.S. intent to rebalance defense priorities toward the Asia-Pacific region ...”

“.. support the development of Guam as a strategic hub ...”

“In order to develop Guam as a strategic hub ...”

What this means: 

-- The “increasingly uncertain security environment” is a clear reference to China’s naval development. Other than the pirates, there’s not much else going on in this region unless you look afar to Pakistan.

-- The references to Guam as a “strategic hub” is in context to Okinawa's diminishing importance, but also defines Guam's new role.

The New York Times has a forum running that ask: Are We Headed for a Cold War With China?

Among its writers is Zhu Feng, a professor in the School of International Studies and the deputy director of the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Beijing University.

Feng sees the military rebalancing in Asia-Pacific as the creation of military programs "that very specifically target China."

Another is Stephen M. Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard University, who sees increased security competition with China but believes economic needs will keep the rivalry within bounds.

Map source: CIA analysis on China's naval capabilities, 1965