Green energy? Buyer beware!
By Kevon Martis
After a winter storm left us without power for three days, I vowed to buy a backup generator, to guard against future events. My local hardware store carried a 10,000 Watt gasoline-powered generator for $3,000. The T. A. Edison Conventional Gas Master 10000 seemed reliable and convenient but looked kind of old-fashioned. So I took a brochure and researched alternatives.
On the internet I found a new generator called the "Sarver-Schauer Super Green Eco 10000." The website described it in glowing terms and said it cost the same as the Edison Gas Master for the same 10,000 watts of electrical generating capacity. Plus, it was available at the Michigan Energy Office.
I leapt for joy! For the same price, I could get a modern looking, environment-friendly model directly from my state government! I raced to the MEO warehouse in Lansing, plopped down a check, popped the unit into my Prius, and drove home at a very reasonable rate of speed. I assembled the device and hired a licensed and insured master electrician to help me connect it to my household circuits.
Then I waited for the first power outage, knowing I was Boy Scout prepared.
Finally, it hit! The winter storm to end all storms! With a tremendous crash, a giant tree limb brought down the power lines that fed the entire neighborhood. I had a smug grin, as I waited for the Super Green Eco 10000 to spring into action, sparing my family days of cold and misery. And I waited. And waited.
Nothing. No power. No lights. No heat. No stove. No TV.
Furious, I pulled out the owner's manual and flipped to the troubleshooting page. In the section titled "My Sarver-Schauer Super Green Eco 10000 is not producing power," I read: "Is your SSSGE plugged into a reliable electrical supply? The SSSGE cannot start on its own. It must be connected to a conventional power supply of 10,000 Watts rated output to function. Connect unit and try again."
Desperate (and agitated), I asked my neighbor if I could plug my Eco 10000 into his natural gas-fired generator for a few minutes, to start it. After he stopped rolling on the floor in laughter, he ran a power cord from his generator to my SSSGE. I flipped the switch, waiting for redemption.
Nothing. No heat. No lights. No cooktop. Nothing.
Furious, I grabbed my manual again and read the section, "I have attached my SSSGE10K to a reliable generator and it still will not run."It said "If your SSSGE10K is attached to reliable power yet still is not working properly, you may have no fuel. Your SSSGE10K must have fuel to operate."
Fuel? I didn't even see a fuel tank. Where do I get fuel, and where do I put it? Reading further, I found the 800 number and called customer service – in Europe. After a twenty-minute wait, a technician answered and asked in a thick Scandinavian accent, "How can I help you?"
"I bought an eco-friendly SSSGE10K," I explained, "and now, just when I need it the most, I cannot get the thing to run. Where do I get fuel?"
"Just a minute, sir, while I access the SSSGE10K database," she said. "Oh yes, right here. That model is powered by wind. I am afraid you cannot procure this fuel yourself. You must wait patiently for the fuel to arrive. Of course, we cannot guarantee that it will arrive in sufficient quantities to satisfy your needs on any given day. But in your region, on an annualized basis, it will produce around 30% of its maximum rated capacity. The good news is that, when the fuel does show up, it's free! Isn't that wonderful?"
I slammed the receiver down and thought, "This must be a joke. Who would dream up some sort of crazy backup generator that has to be plugged into another generator to even start – and then operates only when the ‘fuel' shows up on a time-plus-luck basis? What are you supposed to do when it's 20-below-zero, like it is now, and there is no cussed wind? And who in their right mind would claim the SSSGE10K is of equal value to the Edison Gas Master – or of any value at all during a power outage!?"
As I threw the manual down, I looked at the back cover, and everything became clear. It said: "The Sarver-Schauer Super Green Eco 10000 is the result of a joint venture involving Enron's Ken Lay, former Michigan Energy Office director John Sarver, Michigan Energy/Michigan Jobs chief Mark Schauer, the Sierra Club, the United States Department of Energy and the taxpayer-funded Stimulus Program."
Maybe that's what President Obama meant when he said the government "helped you build that."
Kevon Martis is director of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition.
Postscript. If you think this fable fails the credibility test, the Wall Street Journal notes that in 2010 wind energy technologies received $5 billion in federal (taxpayer) subsidies, or $56.29 per megawatt-hour of electricity actually generated, and photovoltaic solar power received $968 million or $775.64 per mWh of actual electricity – while reliable natural gas-generated electricity received a paltry 64 cents per mWh.
If you're still in the renewable energy camp, perhaps this very real Consumer Reports review will make you realize how absurd many "green" energy claims actually are. Caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware!